§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Major MILNER in the Chair]
§ Clause I ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Rees-Williams (Croydon, South)
As I understand it, Clause 2 of this Bill reenacts the main body of the Army Act and, in particular, Section II of the Army Act. In an answer given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War on 12th February, 1946, to the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), the Secretary of State said:In a command where there is a General Routine Order in force prohibiting marriage with women of certain nationalities a soldier who disobeyed the Order would be liable to a charge under Section II of the Army Act. It has been decided by His Majesty's Government that marriages between members of the Forces and German or Austrian women should be prohibited, but there is no General Routine 702 Order forbidding marriages with Italian women.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1946; Vol. 419, c. 54.]In my view this raises a very important constitutional point. It is raised on this Clause because by this Clause Section II of the Army Act is re-enacted annually and it is under Section II of the Army Act that the Secretary of State and the Government impose this ban. I say that the common law position of the soldier is that he is a citizen with all the rights of a citizen except in so far as those rights are limited by the Act of Parliament which, in effect, we are discussing this morning. I cannot find anything in the Army Act itself, in this Bill, or in any previous Army and Air Force (Annual) Acts, and I have been through every one of them passed since the war started, which empowers the Crown to take the action they have taken with regard to soldiers.
I do not want it to be thought that I am in favour of our soldiers marrying German women. I think there is a lot to be said against it. I do not mind how desirable or undesirable it is; I am not interested in that. The only way in which the rights of a soldier can be limited is by an Act of Parliament which has been discussed, debated, and passed in this House. Any other method is Fascism. The Fascists have always said, "We are doing certain acts for the benefit of the people." No Fascist has ever said he was doing anything to the detriment of the people. Therefore, it is no argument for this Government, or the previous Government, to say, "We know this is unlawful; but it is for the benefit of the soldier." I do not accept that argument for a moment and I hope this Committee will not. Hon. Members opposite will realise that this decision was actually arrived at in the time of the late Government. What I am trying to do today is to ensure that the present Government do not fall into the bad practice of their predecessors. I stand to be corrected, but, if I am right, the consequences both to the right hon. Gentleman himself and to any officer who promulgates this Order, however distinguished he may be, are most serious. In the first place, he can be sued for damages should any damages ensue, at common law.. In the second place, the writ of Habeas Corpus, which is the great foundation of our liberties, can be taken out against him whenever a soldier has been imprisoned under Sec- 703 tion II for neglecting, or failing to obey, the order which the commander has made. There is no point in saying that the King can do no wrong because not only can the King do no wrong but he can authorise no wrong. Therefore, it is no protection to the right hon. Gentleman or the commanders who promulgate the order to try and shelter behind the Throne because the Throne will not protect them.
I would also like to say also that, in my view, it is equally improper and illegal to tell German women that they cannot marry—
§ The Chairman
I am sorry, but I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is not in Order. It is not possible to discuss these matters in detail on the Question that the Clause stand part. If the hon. Gentleman had any point to raise he should have put clown a new Clause on that point so that, if in Order, it might be discussed. We cannot have a general discussion on the whole ramifications, of the Army on the Question that Clause 2 stand part of the Army Annual Bill.
§ Mr. Rees-Williams
With great respect —and I bow to your Ruling—I would point out that I am in a difficulty here. I ask for your Ruling on this. I think it is an important point. I cannot put down an Amendment because, in what the Minister of the Crown and the Army are doing, they are not carrying out the law. I do not want to put down an Amendment to alter the law because I think it is perfectly good as it stands. In my view, in what they are doing, they are not carrying out the law—
§ The Chairman
That appears to be a matter of administration. The occasion for raising a question of that sort would be when the Estimates come before the House. It cannot be raised on this occasion.
§ Mr. Rees-Williams
I bow to your Ruling, and I will bring the matter up on the Estimates. I hope that in the meantime the right hon. Gentleman will consider the matter which you have very courteously allowed me to ventilate this morning.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
On a point of Order, Major Milner. I have a point I wish to raise on Section 72 of the Army Act which 704 "provides for inquiry by court on absence of soldier." There is a new Clause dealing with that Section in the name of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen). I hope I shall be in Order in saying what I have to say on that Clause. At the present moment, of course, the Committee do not know what new Clauses are to be called. If some indication could be given as to that, it would help the Committee.
§ The Chairman
That question may arise, I gather, on some of the new Clauses on the Order Paper and it will be proper for the hon. Gentleman to raise it then.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I refer to the one at the top of page 3564 of the Order Paper which refers to Section 72 of the Army Act.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ CLAUSE 4.—(Amendment of s. 84 of Air Force Act.)
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ 11.15 a.m.
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
May I ask for an explanation as to precisely what Subsection (I, c) means? I am sure the Government will be able to tell us precisely what is meant.
The Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. Bellenģer)
I am afraid I did not quite follow the point the hon. Member was making. Would he elaborate it a little?
§ Mr. Williams
What is the real meaning and necessity for carrying into Clause 4 (1, c) this provision about a further period of service "ending on the date on which he attains the age of 55 or any lower age "? How far might that lower age come down, and why should we have that age?
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Strachey)
As I understand it, the Clause is on the length of service of airmen, and is taking powers for that length of service and of that duration, because, as the hon. Member knows, under the new conditions of service, Air Force service is to be particularly long service, and I think that is the reason.
§ Mr. Strachey
I think that is merely inserted to give powers that the duration of service need not be the maximum, but can be of shorter duration.
§ Mr. Williams
I realise that this is a question out of the blue for the hon. Gentleman, but perhaps at some time, he may be able to let me have a full answer. Probably, I ought to have given him warning of it, but I would like an answer at some time, as this question is a matter of concern to me.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ NEW CLAUSE. —(Attendance at church parade.)
§ Notwithstanding anything contained in the Army Act or Air Force Act, or any order or regulation or disciplinary instruction published for the information and guidance of the Army or Royal Air Force, no person subject to military law or to the Air Force Act shall he compelled to attend any church parade or religious service.—[Mr. Driberģ.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. Driberģ (Maldon)
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
This new Clause is in the names of nearly 200 hon. Members of various parties and points of view. A few minutes ago, some two dozen hon. Members of this House heard Prayers read by Mr. Speaker's Chaplain. I do not believe that those prayers would have been more profoundly significant or more efficacious if all the 640 hon. Members of this House had been under an obligation to attend, or if Mr. Speaker had daily allocated a certain quota of hon. Members to attend. The purpose of this New Clause is clear, simple and self-evident. What we seek to abolish is compulsory church parade in the Forces. It is not, perhaps, 706 a major reform in itself that we are asking my right hon. Friend to institute, but the institution that we are seeking to abolish has been a cause of irritation and of distress of conscience to many thousands of men. I think there is also an important issue of principle involved.
The proposition that, in a democratic society, an adult citizen should be free to worship or not to worship as and when he chooses is so self-evident that it seems to me that it is hardly necessary to argue it; and yet some argument is necessary this morning. It is true that the serviceman is in a different position from that of a civilian. He is under discipline. Voluntarily or by conscription he has subjected his body and brain to the requirements. of the State, but he does not, except in a totalitarian society, surrender what men call his souls. No sergeant-major can drill that inner part of him.
While I think few would question the desirability of this reform, in a democratic society, one does hear arguments, which may be put up today and have been in the past, in favour of the retention of compulsory church parade. One argument that I have often heard advanced in conversation by senior officers is that it is a good thing, on the whole, for morale and discipline in a unit to have one occasion in a week, or every two weeks, when men have to smarten themselves up generally, and that it adds a tonic to the whole feeling of the unit and peps it up generally. We are not now questioning the desirability or otherwise of ceremonial parades generally, or of spit and polish generally, but I really cannot see that that argument has any real relevance to the subject of religion and whether a man should be obliged to take part in come form of religious worship.
Another argument which has been advanced, quite seriously, by some senior chaplains in the past is that there are some men, perhaps a minority, who actually like going to church and taking part in religious worship, but who might be too timid or shy to do so if there were not an obligatory church parade. The argument is that they might be afraid of being ridiculed by their comrades. This argument is sometimes seriously advanced, but I do not think it is a respectable or valid argument. Such a frail, hothouse faith had better be exposed to 707 the testing winds of freedom. In any case, the same argument would apply equally in civilian life, where a man's neighbours know perfectly well whether he goes to church or not, and nobody would suggest that churchgoing should become as obligatory in 1946 for the whole population as it was, I believe, under Queen Elizabeth.
There is another argument which was advanced when this matter was investigated officially some time ago. It was said that it did not really matter, because, in normal circumstances, most of the men could get weekend passes anyway, and would not be there. This is found seriously in print in an official document. It so happens that a constituent of mine had a weekend pass which would have taken him home on Sunday, 17th March, last, and his parents were looking forward to his return. On Saturday, 16th March, the commanding officer of his unit issued an order that, as there were not enough men for church parade, a number of men would have to attend next day to make up a sufficient number, whether they had leave passes or not. The result was that my constituent was not able to get home that Sunday. That, I think, also exposes the argument sometimes advanced that church parade is not any longer obligatory. There are circumstances in which it is obligatory. It may be that, in some units and in some places, there is no obligation, but it remains undoubtedly true that the obligation can be exercised in many cases.
I have had a number of letters about this matter since putting the new Clause on the Order Paper. One letter is from a very simple man who served in the 1914–18 war, and has a son serving now. He writes to say that he supports this suggested reform, and his postscript, though perhaps a little naive, is, I think, very genuine. He writes:I may say that I myself and all my children have been brought up and educated in the true Christian principles of the church, but not compulsory."He underlined the last three words, "but not compulsory." That is important. I quote that postscript especially so that I may emphasise that this Clause is not in any way an attack on religion or on Service chaplains. On the contrary, we want to liberate the chaplains as well as their congregations. In my constituency, I hap- 708 pen to know personally three incumbents of parishes who have all lately been de-mobilised from the Services. Every one of them is warmly with me, and has written to say that he supports this proposed reform.
Again and again I have heard chaplains, particularly the younger and what one might call more "live" chaplains, complaining bitterly of the terrible inertia of a congregation that has been marched into church under compulsion, and of the almost insuperable barrier of mute hostility that confronts them when they try to start preaching to such a congregation. It is terribly difficult, and any chaplain worthy of his calling would far sooner preach to 20, 30 or 50 Men who wanted to go, and have gone voluntarily, than to an enormous church full of 500 or 1,000 men who have been conscripted there. Moreover, it seems to me that by associating religion in the Services with an extra dose of spit and polish I am not now arguing the rights or wrongs of spit and polish, ceremonial parades and so on, as such, but, broadly speaking, they are not particularly popular—we are setting up what is called a conditioned reflex, we are conditioning the men against religion, possibly for the rest of their lives.
I should like to pay tribute in passing to the courage and good work of the chap-plains. They have served splendidly during the war, they have been in action on land, on sea, and in the air, and for the first time, in this late war, we have had the remarkable example of chaplains flying with airborne troops and being dropped by parachute. Needless to say, in the jargon of the headlines, they became known as "para-padres." They have undoubtedly shown a terrific example of courage and devotion, and I should be the last to subscribe to any suggestion for abolishing the institution of the Service chaplain as such. This is not the occasion for a full discussion of their status, but if, as we hope, we can persuade my right hon. Friend to remove this obligation of religious worship, I hope he will in due course also look into the whole question of their future status. For instance, I think it could be argued that it is undesirable, and even a hindrance to the work of the chaplain, that he should always be an officer. I think he should have no rank at all. It would be very much easier for him really to be on intimate, familiar terms with all his 709 men, and all his officers too. There is a possible analogy for that suggestion in the status of a war correspondent. Although in certain circumstances he has the status of an officer, he has no rank at all and can therefore talk on perfectly free and equal terms with generals or with private soldiers.
§ Mr. Sorensen (Leyton, West)
Does the hon. Gentleman mean to equate the war correspondent with the parson?
No, I was attempting to make a serious analogy. Perhaps my hon. and reverend Friend felt I was casting something of a slur on his cloth, but I was not intending to do so.
I want to ask my right hon. Friend if he could also consider one or two safeguards which I think are necessary if, as we hope, he does institute this desirable reform. It would be a pity if commanding officers, the obligation to attend church having been removed, none the less continued to use every Sunday morning as an occasion for a full-dress ceremonial parade. It is, of course, impossible to limit the discretion of a commanding officer and say when he shall call a parade; he must be allowed that discretion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Thank you."] What? [An HON. MEMBER: "It is the commanding officers."] Although that discretion must be there, I imagine that my right hon. Friend could think out ways and means of persuading commanding officers that in general, in normal circumstances, when there is no operational requirement, Sunday should be a real day of rest, a real free day in the Forces as well as in civilian life. It is also very important that there should be facilities for religious worship for those who desire it, of whatever denomination.
It is sometimes argued that Servicemen who do not want to go to church now, as things are, have the option of not going; but of course it is known that if they refuse to go they are customarily given some rather distasteful fatigue during the period of church parade. If there is a general overall removal of this obligation to attend church, that fear will no longer be present; it is automatically removed. I mention that in order to forestall any possible use of that argument I am reminded by one of my hon. 710 Friends of an incident that occurred when he was in the Forces and the late Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Temple, came to preach. A very special compulsory church parade was laid on for that occasion, and a notice was put up in orders, roughly to the effect that "all will attend "—the only exceptions being Jews, atheists and cookhouse orderlies. I am sure that that great man, Dr. Temple, would have intensely disliked preaching to a conscripted congregation, although he was such a great man that he may even have been able to get past that handicap.
We do really feel that this reform is overdue. I earnestly beg my right hon. Friend to do away with this institution, which is too often a blasphemous parody of true religious worship and is always an infringement of the rights of the individual soul. If my right hon. Friend can do what we ask him to do, I believe that he will enable the devoted chaplains to do their work more truly in the spirit of that service which—we have high authority for saying—is perfect freedom.
§ Major Bruce (Portsmouth, North)
I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberģ) in paying a tribute, which I think is warmly deserved, to all those chaplains who have served in the war, either as uniformed chaplains accompanying the Forces or as civilian padres such as have been used in this country ever since the beginning of the war. They have conducted the corporate services for their respective denominations, they have very largely been engaged on a whole series of welfare activities within their units, and, in addition, they have always been available to give their spiritual guidance to those individual members of the Forces who may have required it from time to time. In fact, it has been recognised in the Army that the ordinary civilian on entering the Forces requires these facilities for corporate worship which he has had in civilian life, and it is also recognised that he does require that spiritual guidance which he may have obtained in civilian life. The unhappy fact is—and I can testify to this from my own personal experience—that the moment the civilian enters the Army he finds himself under a form of compulsion in regard to his religious life.
The compulsion exercised is by no means universally applied. There are 711 three types of commanding officer. There is the commanding officer who insists every Sunday on the full attendance of all his officers and other ranks at a church parade. Then there is the type of commanding officer who insists on the full attendance of other ranks at church parades, plus a few representatives of the officers. Then, finally, there is the more enlightened type of commanding officer who makes attendance at church, or attendance at any form of denominational service, a matter for the individual conscience of the Service man. So we can see from the outset that what forms of compulsion are exercised are by no means applied in an universal manner. If the case for compulsory church parades were carried through to its logical conclusion we should undoubtedly have the spectacle of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff calling out the entire staff of the War Office, according to their respective denominations, and marching them to the church or chapel, or to their respective denominational services, every Sunday. If that were done on a basis of equality there might, without affecting the principle, be slightly less ground for complaint. But how in fact is this compulsion exercised? I know that, technically speaking, according to the strict interpretation of King's Regulations on this point, the soldier or the officer can be marched to church but is not compelled against his will to enter into the church. That may be so, although I can give examples where even that rule or custom has been transgressed.
Compulsion is applied indirectly. It is secured by the application of less palatable alternatives. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon has mentioned cookhouse fatigues. There are also things like route marches, which the sergeant-major miraculously and by coincidence devises for all those who do not wish to attend church. There is the overriding point that a man who persistently refuses on grounds of conscience to enter the church of his denomination for a particular compulsory parade is likely to be regarded by his commanding officer as one of those awkward people, and, of course, his military career in the future may even suffer because of that. The fact of the matter is that the majority of the people affected acquiesce and go.
712 What are the effects of this? They are fourfold. In my view, the whole essence of corporate worship is destroyed by the presence at religious services of individuals who are there, for all practical purposes, under duress. I say it is bad for the padre, because, instead of administering the service to people who are heart and soul with him, he knows full well that many in his congregation are really waiting for the service to end. It is bad for the willing worshipper, who feels he has become identified with a number of people who are unwilling to be there and that there is no method of distinguishing his presence from merely formal attendance. It is bad for those who in their hearts do not wish to be. there and who feel they are merely being pushed around.
I want to appeal to my right hon. Friend to give all the denominations a fair chance. True worship, in my view, has the following advantages. The padre knows exactly where he stands; he knows, by the attendance at his services, exactly how his message is going over. He knows by results whether what he is saying, and the manner in which he is conducting his services, are, in fact, commanding the support of those who have the same religious persuasions as himself. I venture to suggest as a second consequence that the voluntary worshipper himself will feel far happier if he knows that in going to the service of his denomination he is worshipping in the company of those who are there perfectly voluntarily, and who want to perform with him that simple act of faith. It would give a far better chance for the development of true religion in the various denominations. It would give a far better opportunity for the padre to make an appeal to the essential and true spiritual nature of man, which he is debarred from making if people are compelled to attend his services.
It may be said that, in the final analysis, those who do not want to go need not. Therefore, I should like to give the House a quotation from a battalion order, a copy of which I shall be pleased to furnish to the Secretary of State. It states:It should be noted that these parades will be treated as parades, and all troops, except those excused from marching on medical grounds, will march to church. Troops excused from marching may be ordered to attend by their commanding officer.713Those who are so ordered should proceed to Church independently, to report outside the 'Church to an N.C.O. detailed under Unit arrangements for the purpose, not later than the time of arrival of the Unit Church Parade. They will enter the Church immediately after the Unit Parade has filed in.After the Service such troops will leave the Church immediately after their Unit Parade has done so, and fall in under the same N.C.O. at such place as may be appointed by the O.C. the Unit, whence they will be dismissed to proceed back to barracks independently.
§ Squadron-Leader Sir Gifford Fox (Henley)
May we have the name of the battalion? That sounds rather like a brigade order.
§ Major Bruce
I am sorry I am not in a position to give the hon. and gallant Member the name of the battalion concerned.
§ Major Bruce
I am quite willing to furnish the order I have here to the Secretary of State. But owing to the fact that Servicemen are most reluctant in these matters to say anything which will identify themselves, the name of the battalion has been blocked out on the paper.
§ Briģadier Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
There is a reference in it to commanding officers. There is not more than one commanding officer in a battalion.
§ Major Bruce
On technical matters of this kind, I am, of course, only too willing to accept guidance and help from the hon. and gallant Member for Henley (Sir G. Fox) who, I know, has had such comprehensive experience in the Royal Air Force during the war. It may be that it is, in fact, a brigade or garrison order, but I think the principle laid down here is quite clear. If the order I have read out is unsatisfactory to some hon. Members opposite, I will quote from a letter I have received from one of my constituents, which contains substantially the same data. He says:The C.O. of this Battalion has decreed that all men detailed for church parade will attend the service and not wait outside the church, thereby virtually compelling men to worship God by numbers.It may he said that there are still men who hold their religious faith so firmly and their liberty of conscience so much at 714 heart, that they feel it to be a violation of their conscience and would still refuse to go. It is not so simple as that. There are many voluntary worshippers in the Forces, and outside too, who may be quite devoted to the faith of their denomination, but nevertheless do not wish invariably, week by week, regularly to attend church or chapel. It is by no means laid down by any denomination that participation in organised and corporate worship of this kind is a prime essential, or that continuous worship on this basis is essential to one's religious faith. Many of us have found, in those moments of reflection and contemplation which men of all religions like to have, that the open sky, or the solitude of one's own room, serves exactly the same purpose.
The liberty of the individual is here at stake. Appeals have been made, both before and during the war, for great efforts from our people, and as soon as any Government or section want a response from ordinary people, they praise them up to the skies. At these times, the ordinary people are the most responsible people in the world. They are given an adult mentality, and are told that they are fully capable of forming their own judgment. Every conceivable concession is made in their favour, and every possible praise is given of their abilities. But when it comes to a matter of this kind, the State persists in treating its citizens like a pack of schoolchildren. We say, and I think hon. Members on the other side will agree with us, that a man's religion is his own personal problem. It is a matter on which he alone is the best judge, and if anyone, whether it be the State or an individual officer, is allowed to dictate to the individual exactly the time, the place and the manner in which he shall pursue his acts of worship, then I say that it is an impertinence which is unworthy of the great democracy of our country.
§ Briģadier Peto (Barnstaple)
I am very fortunate in catching your eye, Major Milner, because I find that the longer I sit in this Chamber the more difficult it is to be called upon to make a speech on a subject about which one has some knowledge. I feel that I am on a good wicket, when speaking about this question of compulsory church parades. After having served for nearly 31 years in the Army, I consider that I 715 know a little about the subject. I have probably attended more parades, and have certainly ordered as many church parades, as anyone sitting on the other side of the House. I have certainly attended more church parades than the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberģ), and probably more than the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce). This matter has nothing to do with whether the padres have been good or bad during the war. That does not enter the argument at all. The argument is whether it is right to have a church parade which men must attend. I have given a lot of thought to this subject in the past, and I know the answer is that you must have some form of church parade, but that you need not have it every Sunday and that you must not have the same men sent, by order, to church each Sunday, which is what people resent and dislike.
What I consider to be the ideal is that the battalion, or the regiment, should go to its own church service as a battalion or regiment, with all its officers, and that it should be a family service far more than merely a church parade. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but I very much doubt that they know what they are laughing at. Hon. Members on the other side are laughing at the idea of family worship. The more you can carry the spirit of family worship into the Army, the better, and men get that feeling when they have their commanding officer reading the Lesson in the church to his battalion. That is not the same feeling you get when ordered to go to church each Sunday as one of a small party. [An HON. MEMBER: "Have your ever been in the ranks? "] Have you ever been an officer?
§ The Chairman
I notice that Members on both sides of the Committee are using the word "you." I hope that hon. Members realise they are addressing the Chair.
§ Briģadier Peto
I am afraid that I owe you an apology, Major Milner, in addressing remarks which were certainly not meant for the Chair. This question of parades or no parades is really a question of whether you are to make a church parade a fatigue with the object of punishing men for not being clean and tidy or not. If that is the object of a church 716 parade, it is very bad. The object of a church parade should be to encourage men to take some part in the service of God. The more that is done within reason, both in the Army and in civilian life, the better. I should be the last one who would wish to see accepted the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Maldon, who I very much doubt, to use his own words, has ever subjected his body or mind to the requirements of the State in the Army.
§ 11.45 a.m.
Colonel Wiģģ (Dudley)
In a discussion on Army matters it is usually not long before someone begins to throw his service about, but I am not going to follow the example of the hon. and gallant Member for Barnstaple (Briģadier Peto). For one thing he is much older than I am—
§ Colonel Wigg
Very well, then, I will follow him for a moment. My service amounts to 25 years. I have never ordered anybody to attend church parade, but I have attended many church parades which I have been ordered to attend by other people. I did on occasion in my Army service refuse to attend a church parade. I am a member of the Church of England and on my documents I am given that description. As a result of an experience in a garrison town, which contains a large and beautiful cathedral, when I was ordered to attend at service I changed my religion and as a result to this day my youngest daughter remains unbaptised. I did it because the service I was ordered to attend was a travesty of what a religious service should be. I know from what was said at the time that many soldiers objected to attending that service. As my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberģ) said, if a soldier objects to attending church parade he is apt to find himself a marked man. I was in the fortunate position of being able to register my objection, because the end of my service was drawing near and I did not care very much what happened to me. I should have been a little less keen to register an objection if I had been at the beginning of my service and the drafting season had been approaching. I am quite sure I should have been regarded as an awkward sort of chap who would have to be 717 " shanghaied." I do not particularly want to follow this line of thought and I only do so to reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Barnstaple.
I want for a moment to address myself to the proposed Clause. I am wholeheartedly behind the sentiments contained in the Clause, but I am not sure that its acceptance would be the best way to tackle the job. The paragraphs in the King's Regulations which order a man to attend church parade are 1605 to 1608. While ordering an officer or man to attend divine service they make the proviso that a man shall not be forced to attend a service other than his own. That is a liberal provision and in most units this proviso is applied in a liberal way. Nevertheless, it is a fact that there has grown up in the Army over the years a practice which is a departure from the Regulations. There is much greater emphasis on the parade than there is on the religious service, and I feel as a result of experiences gained during the war that the Secretary of State for War should look at the Regulations and bring them into line with modern practice. It might be an excellent thing if once a week a ceremonial parade should take place. The Regulations can be framed to ensure that that is done, but it should be completely divorced from attendance at religious services. On the other hand, I think it is very important that there should be provision in the King's Regulations to make it possible for any man, irrespective of denomination, to attend religious service if he so wishes. When I say that, I am thinking not only of religious services held on the Sabbath but on any day in the week when a man feels the spiritual need to attend a place of worship.
I do not want to detain the Committee for a moment longer than is necessary. This particular subject can generate and, indeed, might generate a great deal of heat, but I think that on both sides of the Committee there is more common ground than we think. I would ask the Minister to look at this problem not so much from the angle of the experience of the last 25 years, as from the angle that he hopes to recruit a citizen Army recruited, perhaps, not as the old one was, although I think the old Army was much better than some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House sometimes think. It was not 718 exclusively recruited from the scallywags and down-and-outs of society. There were thousands of men who went into the Army because they liked Army life, because they perhaps wanted an opportunity to travel or because they regarded it as an opportunity to advance themselves in a material way. I hope, therefore, the Secretary of State for War, realizing the changed needs of a citizen Army, will look at the paragraphs in the Regulations and redraft them in accordance with the spirit of our time.
§ 12 noon.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Thorp (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I have just three points which I want to raise in this Debate. Firstly, I understood the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce) to say that people would not have so much objection to a church parade if the C.I.G.S. marched his men from the War Office to a local chapel. I did not quite see the point of that remark, because I think the object of the new Clause is to give freedom of worship and not to make everyone go to church irrespective of whether he wants to go or not. It seemed rather a weak point to me. The next thing that emerged from his remarks was that he did not like this business of contracting out; in fact, it goes against the principles of his party in certain respects. In the third place, the Secretary of State for War must clear up what is meant by a religious service, whether he accepts the proposed Clause or not. It might include the anniversary service at the Cenotaph. That, I presume, is a religious service. If the Clause is accepted, does it mean that nobody can be ordered to go to that service on that national day? If it does mean that, and the parade is voluntary, it may he difficult to organise such a parade. The next point is, Does a religious service include a funeral? Does it include a funeral from the time it starts at the barracks or the house to the time it reaches the church? If it does, the men could not be ordered either to be in the escort for a military funeral, be pall bearers, or, indeed, if it were necessary, to be the firing party. I think these points must be cleared up and explained before the Secretary of State for War accepts or rejects the proposed new Clause.
Mr. James Callaģhan (Cardiff, South)
I think we are all indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. 719 Driberg) for having the Parliamentary foresight to have put this new Clause on the Order Paper, and I am also glad that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dudley (Colonel Wigg) was able to rescue the Debate from the cheap and nasty sneers of the hon. and gallant Member for Barnstaple (Briģadier Peto) which, I thought, were quite unworthy of a serving officer. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Salisbury (Major Morrison), that there are certain practical difficulties which may well have to he worked out in connection with a redefinition of the rights and obligation—
I beg the hon. and gallant Member's pardon. I meant the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Lieut.-Colonel Thorp), who bears a facial resemblance to the hon. and gallant Member. In redefining these obligations we have to look at the practical points which have been raised. We are not particularly wedded to the form of words on the Order Paper, but what we are concerned with is the principle which has been enunciated and debated today. As we are dealing with a religious subject, may I adopt the form of the lay preacher and divide my exposition into three parts? First, I suggest that the continuance of this regulation is unnecessary for the purpose of maintaining discipline; second, I suggest that it is an unnecessary infringement of the rights of our new civilian Army; and, third, I suggest that it is an unnecessary handicap to the spiritual mission of the Church. It is an unfortunate, but historic, fact that this issue of church parades has bedevilled the question of discipline. When this matter was considered by an Inter-Departmental Committee on Proposed Disciplinary Amendments to the Army and Air Force Acts the whole basis on which the question was considered was whether they were necessary or not to the discipline of the men. It is necessary, therefore, to consider that aspect of the matter today.
What reasons did that Committee advance for their unanimous recommendation that in all three Services church parades should continue? They said, first of all, that senior officers desired it. Well, they do not seem to have changed much in 20 years. Senior officers may still desire it, but that is not necessarily an argu- 720 ment: it is a statement of fact. There are many senior officers, many of whom we know, who do not like church parades in their present form. The second reason of the Committee was that, in the main, men of good conduct got weekend passes anyway, that it was only the "bad hats" who were left in camp at week ends, and that it was a good thing for them to go to church. I suggest that that is not a reasonable ground for compelling attendance at church, especially since we have passed through a tremendous war during which weekend passes from Trincomalee or Rangoon were not so easy to get. The third reason of the Committee was that a man need not attend a service of different denomination from his own and that, therefore, there was no reason why the practice should be altered. That is a complete misconception of the whole position.
We are not concerned with whether a man should be forced to attend a church service, or whether he may be permitted to attend a service of his own choosing. The question is whether or not he may attend the service. That is the whole issue. It is on that that I feel we are bound to come down on the side of abolishing compulsory church attendance. On 24th March, 1930, the then Secretary of State for War said that a man did not join the Army in ignorance of the existence of these parades, so that they were an obligation he accepted. It may or may not have been a valid argument then, but it is not a valid argument now. The whole situation has changed since we introduced the Conscription Acts. Another speaker at that time —from the Conservative benches, and I will not rescue his name from the oblivion into which it has sunk—said, "If we abolish church parades what are the men to do with their time? "That was advanced as a serious argument over 20 years ago. It is unfortunate that in the King's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions we should find divine service taking its place under the heading of discipline. If you look at the sub-heads in Chapter 12 you will find it says:Summary punishment — deserters and absentees: divine service.I believe that that was the whole basis of the approach to this question, and that the antediluvian retention of this particular subject in that chapter has come down through the years because nobody has ever bothered to take it up.
Major Leģģe-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
Does not the whole basis go back to the year 1645, and to the words "Let God arise, and His enemies be scattered "?
I was about to suggest that it went back to 1551. Section I of the Act of Uniformity provides that all persons shall attend public worship on Sundays and holidays. I enter with hesitation on this legal ground, but I suggest that it is quite possible that this was worked into King's Regulations at the time when it was not only the law, but customary, for people to be required to go to church every Sunday. It was repeated in the Sunday Observance Act, 1667, and partially removed by the Religious Disability Act, 1844, for those who were not members of the Church of England. Legal advice I have received assures me that every Member of this House, who claims to be a member of the Church of England, is liable to a fine of 5s. for every Sunday on which he does not go to church. It is a good job that that does not apply to Members attending prayers in this House. Today, we had 27 Members at prayers, and yesterday we had 53. What is good for us is good for men in the Forces in a matter of this sort. If we take the liberty of deciding whether we shall or shall not worship God in this way, surely, the men should have the same right. They are people as we are, with the same thoughts and aspirations.
I believe this issue of compulsory church attendance destroys a link with normal civilian life. I remember that when I was a rating in this war I really did resent being compelled to attend church whether I wanted to or not, and I am sure that whatever the hon. and gallant Member for Barnstaple may say about church parades being a corporate act of family worship, there is a great deal of resentment felt by men in the ranks on this matter. 12.15 p.m.
I come to the final point. This is, I suggest, an unnecessary handicap to the spiritual mission of the Church. I believe that clergymen in the Forces labour under certain disabilities, one of which is the uniform. I have always thought that it has been singularly unfortunate in this war that the Navy has persuaded naval chaplains to wear brass buttons and a peak cap, because it has turned them into 722 semi-officers. Some of the best padres I knew in the Navy were those who continued to wear their grey cloth and clerical collars, and did not go into uniform. That is one disability. But the main disability, for our purpose this morning, is that it is unfortunate that the question of church attendance should be tied up with the official machine. It is all very, well to have church services in which one may or may not do some good to somebody, but when the service concludes with a homily by the executive commander on the fact that too much crockery is being broken or too much water is being used on board ship, a' ' the use has to be cut down, otherwise there will be water only between four and five o'clock each day, the two things do not tie up together. It is an unfortunate disability to the padre that he should be involved in the official machine in that way.
I ask, Where do men derive most benefit from a religious service? Is it from the compulsory church parade, or is it from the small meeting of likeminded men, gathered together of their own free will, with a padre whom they know and like, in order to worship God? Every morning at Portsmouth Barracks, when I was there, Holy Communion was piped at five minutes to eight, and there was a service well worth attending, and many men went and derived far more benefit from it than they did from the compulsory church parade on Sunday. The Church can drag a seaman to the altar by a lanyard, but it will not make a Christian out of him by doing so. I am disturbed, as I am sure many hon. Members are, by the degree of moral turpitude that exists today. It is a lamentable, but an obvious fact. If I wanted to score a point, I would say that it occurs at a time when compulsory church attendance is in being to a greater extent than it has been for 300 years. The Church has a great spiritual mission to fulfil. It brings consolation to some, it brings added strength to many others. It is doing a tine job. I believe it is labouring under a handicap in this sense. I believe that if we removed that handicap, it could go on and do the work which' it desires to do, and which I believe it shows much greater awareness of doing now than it did 20 years ago, when this matter was discussed. For those three reasons, I believe we should remove this handicap now and should give our people 723 civilian rights, as they desire them, in this respect, and that we should free the Church from this handicap.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett (Bridgwater)
It seems to me so obvious that this new Clause should be accepted that my arguments in support of it will be very brief. It, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Cardiff (Mr. Callaģhan) reminded us, members of the public arc liable to a fine of 5s. for every Sunday they do not go to church, I trust that will be brought to the attention of the Government when they come to the question of raising Members' salaries.
We are told that we fought the war in defence of the four freedoms, one of which is freedom to worship. I suggest that freedom to worship implies freedom to worship when you like, where you like, and how you like; and it cannot possibly mean compulsion to worship when and where you do not like. I believe, just as much as does any other hon. Member, that not only this country, but mankind, desperately needs a spiritual revival. It is true that many of the old standards of morality have gone. Mankind is groping around for something fresh to believe in. Some people believe in totalitarian systems. This compulsion to worship is a tendency in that direction. If we need that spiritual revival, the worst possible way of getting it is by compelling men in the Forces to go on church parade. Finally, I wonder how many hon. Members have never yet learned to appreciate the beauties of Shakespeare because they were compelled, when at school, to learn great slabs of Shakespeare by heart. The moral is quite clear. I feel sure the Government will accept this new Clause.
Mr. Paģet (Northampton)
I also hope very much that the Government will accept the new Clause. Anybody who has had any experience in the Forces of church parades knows what profoundly irreverent things they are. They are regarded by the men as a fatigue, and as nothing but a fatigue. The men are brought to do this thing which they do not want to do, because it is discipline and because it is a parade. The psychological effect is merely to identify God with constituted authority and with the brass hat. Christ was the Apostle of the meek. Compulsory church parades arc utterly wrong from a religious point of view. Those 724 who have any care for religion must say that compulsory church parades ought to be abolished. They are things which are most bad.
§ Briģadier Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
As one hon. Member said, if one has had 30 years' experience one should be able to give the benefit of that experience in a Debate of this sort. I am delighted that there has disappeared from the Debate that spirit of Vindictiveness which marked its opening stages. A matter of this sort should be debated entirely on its merits. What we want is to do the best not only for the Army, but for the men in the Army, and for the nation. Anything that we may build on a spirit of bitterness will be without good effect.
§ Mr. Sorensen
The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to a spirit of vindictiveness. Many of us did not feel that there was any vindictiveness in the Debate. Will he tell us to what he referred?
§ Briģadier Prior-Palmer
I was referring to the spirit of bitterness which pervaded the House when I first entered this morning. That spirit has now subsided, which is a very good thing. I would like to give an example of what happens in a regiment with regard to church parades. I had the honour to take over a battalion of men all in civilian clothes, with the exception of two officers and one sergeant-major, and to bring that battalion up to a certain standard of training. The first thing I did was to find out how many of the men had ever been inside a church. I found that 95 per cent. of them had never been inside a church. I was very fortunate in that I had an extremely good padre. I asked him, "How are we to tackle this problem, which is a very serious one? I would like the spirit of the new regiment to be built on Christian principles. These people have never been inside a church, they have never been compelled to go to church, they will not understand the old Army way of doing things. We want something new." I said to the men, "I shall compel you to go to church for three months. During that time a certain proportion, in rotation, will attend church parade; but after that there will be no compulsory church parade in this regiment, but I would like to see 16 men from each squadron on church parade." After those three 725 months, and for the remainder of the 18 months I was in command, there were never fewer than 16 men from each squadron on church parade. If I had not had the power to make them go to church in the first place, they would never have Gone inside a church. I do not think it is right that Parliament should lay down categorically that church parades are illegal. I suggest that the War Office should issue an A.C.I. or an instruction putting the responsibility upon senior officers to see that the interpretation of the instruction is carried out in the right spirit.
There are two or three points which I should like to take up in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce). He gave us to understand that every man in a battalion is forced to go to church every Sunday. In my experience that has never. happened.
§ Major Bruce
I think if the hon. and gallant Member reads HANSARD tomorrow morning he will see that I did not say so.
§ Briģadier Prior-Palmer
Very well. I must have misunderstood the hon. and gallant Member. A man usually goes on church parade once every six weeks. Rather than that we should accept the proposed new Clause in the form in which it is laid down, the whole matter should be gone into and an instruction should be issued. This House would not do right to abrogate the powers of senior officers in these matters. I cannot understand the argument of hon. Members opposite. In other directions they are in favour of Ministers making Orders in Council and acting on their responsibility without coming to this House. It must he the same for senior officers in the Army. They understand their men. If they do not understand them, they should not be there.
§ Mr. John Freeman (Watford)
After the speeches which have been made by my hon. Friends I do not think that the Secretary of State for War can refuse utterly to consider, if not to accept, this new Clause. I believe he has it in his power to accept it, or to give us some equivalent assurance that will enable us to go away with the feeling that the matter is to be attended to. At this rather 726 late stage in the Debate there are one or two points which I should like to put, because they have not been argued with anything like the same force as has been shown about other arguments. I am under no illusion that the advisers of my right hon. Friend may not take the same view of this matter as ho does, but I trust that my right hon. Friend will permit me to address a particular plea to him, notwithstanding the fact that I have recently removed myself from the inviolable sanctuary of the second Bench to this thieves' kitchen in which I now find myself.
Sir William Darlinģ (Edinburgh, South)
On a point of Order. Is it in Order for the hon. Member to suggest that his hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberģ) is associated with a thieves' kitchen?
§ Mr. Freeman
That is a matter which, I suggest, can be settled amicably between my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberģ) and myself. I will give the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darlinģ) a categorical assurance that never, either in a thieves' kitchen or elsewhere, will I associate myself too closely with him.
It is important that the Committee should understand this proposal as a practical proposition, and what has moved us to put it forward in its present form. The point is that it is exceedingly difficult Parliamentarily to get this matter discussed, and this occurred to us, on good advice, to be the only way in which it might be brought up. If my right hon. Friend says, as it is possible he will, that he cannot accept an Amendment of the Army Act in this form, but that he will see what can be done about publishing an A.C.I. which will have the same effect, I feel sure that my hon. Friends who have their names to the proposal will agree to accept that assurance. It is right that the Committee should also understand that the decision in this matter has ultimately to be taken by the Army Council. I understand that the Army Council contains four military members and three political members. It is, therefore, important that we should give as much power as possible to the elbow of my right hon. Friend, in case there should be any difference of opinion between the two parts of the Army Council.
727 I do not want to swap experiences as a soldier with the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Briģadier Prior-Palmer) but I have often noticed that on the whole professional soldiers who show great bravery in everything else, seem to be frightened out of their lives by Members of Parliament. I think my right hon. Friend should tell his advisers that there will be an almighty row between the Army Council and the House of Commons if this point is not conceded to us.
There are two specific arguments which might be brought against us by my right hon. Friend and which have not been dealt with as clearly as they should have been. I ask my right hon. Friend not to use either of those arguments when he replies as a reason for refusing what we are asking. The first argument is that compulsory church parades have an admirable recruiting value, that such sights as the Brigade of Guards at Wellington Barracks or the Royal Marines at Portsmouth have value in drawing recruits into the Army. It is obvious that whatever may be the value of ceremonial parades as a recruiting incentive—we need not go into that matter now—the fact that they are coupled with the worship of God has nothing to do with the case at all. The second argument is that in a sort of mystical way, because this is a Christian State, because the Church of England is the official Church of this State, and because the Army is, above everything else, the servant of the State, there should be some compulsory corporate expression of worship, to which the whole Army is committed. Somehow this is said to be symbolical of the connection between God and the State.
Really, that argument does not hold wailer. It should be pushed to its logical conclusion. I am sure that the Committee would view with some surprise an Order compelling not only members of the Civil Service. not only the newly appointed National Coal Board but the whole Cabinet, to attend church on Sunday morning, because they corporatively represent the State and must be corporatively linked with the Church. It would mean that the Leader of the Opposition, who is also a salaried pillar of the Constitution, might be seen walking arm in arm with the Minister of Health. [Laughter.] It is laughable, but it is an 728 entirely logical extension of that argument. No amount of organised, compulsory binding between Church and State or between the Army and the Church has any value. What has value is what is in men's hearts. If this is a Christian country, as I believe it is, men will attend church voluntarily if they are given the opportunity to do so, and they have the right to take this decision for themselves.
The hon. and gallant Member for Berwick - upon - Tweed (Lieut. - Colonel Thorp), who has now left the Committee, asked three questions which I have no doubt will tax the ingenuity of the Army Council Secretariat in providing a regulation to meet this case, but they were not serious questions, and they do not, I suggest, require an answer on this particular new Clause. I would remind my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State, that when he took part in Prayers in the House this morning—he was present as I was—he prayed to be given the strength to take various actions in order to maintain true religion and justice, and King's Regulations, as they stand at present, are not in the interests of true religion or of justice. That should be put right.
§ Mr. Grimston (Westbury)
I rise to support the point of view which has been put forward by two of my hon. Friends and also by the hon. and gallant Member for Dudley (Colonel Wigg), who, I see, has now left the Committee. In listening to this Debate I, like the hon. and gallant Member for Dudley, believe there is more agreement in this matter than might perhaps appear on the surface and I think there is—I speak subject to correction—on both sides of the Committee a general feeling that an individual should not be compelled to take part in a religious service. Therefore, the sentiment underlying this proposed new Clause commands fairly general support. I rather hope that the right hen. Gentleman who is to reply will look very carefully at this new Clause before he decides to accept it as it stands. In spite of what the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. J. Freeman) has said, I think there really is something in the questions which the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Lieut.-Colonel Thorp) asked. Let me briefly give one or two instances. As the Clause stands no man is to be compelled to attend any church 729 parade or religious service. The Cenotaph service has been mentioned, for which a large number of troops are paraded, and I would hardly have thought it would have been in the minds of the promoters of this new Clause that that should not be a compulsory parade. Similar functions and services take place up and down the country. It may be quite a small place. It happens in my own constituency where there is a local garrison and they like to have a parade of troops before the annual Armistice service. I think, therefore, the promoters would not wish that to be prejudiced.
§ Mr. Grimston
Not necessarily. The local officer commanding may be asked by the local authority to provide a detachment. More than one detachment might be wanted on the same day. I think that the commanding officer should, perhaps, be allowed to order men out on that occasion. I am merely putting the point of view—
§ Mr. Walkden (Doncaster)
Does not the hon. Member realise that, in running through these arguments used here this morning, we are also linking up the question with the position of men in fire brigades and the civil defence services, and with lots of other parades, where often local councils compel men to go to church when the councillors themselves hardly go at all?
§ Mr. Grimston
I am talking about this new Clause in relation to the Army at the moment. There are also great national occasions and there may be a ceremonial parade in which a religious service or religious observance occurs. I hardly think the promoters of this Clause would want it to operate in a case of that sort, which might make the organisation rather difficult. I hope that the Secretary of State will look very carefully into these points. These are rather serious points. They are not frivolous ones. A great many of our national occasions, although ceremonial to a large extent, have some element of religious service in them, and I do not think that they should be brought within the scope of a new Clause such as this, which is designed to stop men being ordered to church as individuals against their wishes or conscience. I hope that 730 the right hon. Gentleman will be sympathetic to the sentiment which is underlying this Clause but will look very carefully at some of the implications in it as it stands.
Surely, a commanding officer who is any good at all can obtain ample volunteers for a Cenotaph or other national or Armistice affair. It is a matter of the personality of the commanding officer, and he has not got the personality of a sausage if he cannot get volunteers.
§ Mr. Grimston
I was suggesting it was not in the minds of the promoters of this new Clause that a State occasion or a great national festival, which is in the main ceremonial but has an element of religion in it, should not be able to be made a compulsory parade. I think it goes far beyond what is intended in this Clause.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. J. J. Lawson)
I knew when I saw this new Clause on the Paper headed by the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberģ) that there would be an extremely interesting Debate, shot through to some extent with great recognition of the seriousness of the subject with which we are dealing. I have been in this House now for many years, and when the matter of religion is raised it is always the case that we have a Debate of this kind, sometimes very serious but, if I may say so, with that characteristic British shyness of showing ourselves too much, now and again shot through with humour. Let me say, quite frankly, that I was very pleased when I saw this Clause on the Paper because I have been, for some months now, giving some consideration to this subject. Someone said he doubted if the question of padres had very much to do with it, but I say that in view of the fact that masses of young men and women now are compelled to go into the Service, no one who has my office and has to face the facts arising from that situation, can very long resist facing some very serious questions affecting the future of these young people. We take young men, and young women, too, at present, away from their homes and put them in new surroundings at a formative period of their life. I know that there are certain people who want us to be hard and tough and disciplined. It was my lot to mix among men when 731 I was a boy of 12 years of age. I have also had Army experience. I have noticed the hardening effect on boys of the occupation I followed, but I sometimes thought it was tougher for the young boy of 18 or 19 to be in the Army than to be in the mine, as I was when a boy.
I think there is no place more than in the Army in which a young man, who, at that age is beginning to ask serious questions of life, has the right to receive some sort of instruction and guidance and advice from the men who are skilled in these matters. Therefore, I have been giving some consideration to many of the questions with regard to the padres. It is quite true, as some of my hon. Friends on both sides said, that the padre has reached a very high standard in these matters during the war. He has, for instance, shown great courage. I had the privilege of signing the recommendation to His Majesty the King for a V.C. which was granted to a padre only yesterday, and they were very gallant conditions which led to that V.C. being awarded. The padre has also done good work in welfare, and I have heard some striking stories of how padres, when they have been in prisoner-of-war camps, have helped to keep up the morale of the men and to inspire them under the most difficult circumstances. I only say that to make it clear that the suggestions made on some of these matters have received, and are receiving, consideration; and we shall try to maintain as far as we can the high standard attained during the war.
I am glad it was made quite clear that it is not because we regard sacred things lightly that this matter has been discussed here today. I think it is just as well that that should be made quite clear to the country and to the world, for whatever step we take in this matter today, we do not want it misinterpreted by anyone outside. It is not because we are indifferent to spiritual things but because, in fact, we are deeply concerned about them. Having said that, I must repeat that for some two or three months I have been turning over in my mind the rightness of the proposals embodied in this proposed new Clause. As we have seen here, there are two points of view. In considering these proposals I have tried not to give undue weight to my own 732 personal convictions, though they are very strong, and I have tried to marshal the many arguments that can be brought to bear upon this question on one side or the other.
I want to make a declaration later on, and I think it is necessary to put what has been in my mind quite clearly both to Members of this Committee and to a large number of people outside who may not feel like accepting the point of view which has been put here this morning, and which I shall put forward presently. On the one side lies the long Army tradition of corporate worship. There is the historic connection between Church and State, the State of which the Army is an organised part. I know how strong and how sincere are the arguments that are put in many places for the church parade. It is said that we can demonstrate our beliefs by this corporate attendance at divine worship but, on the other hand, there lies what is to me the vital importance of freedom of personal religion and choice, and I was glad to hear that expressed in this proposal and by hon. Members. I believe that the individual, whether he be soldier or civilian, should be free to worship God in his own way and, as far as may be possible, in his own time.
§ Mr. Lawson
I cannot think that in the long run this freedom of worship can exist, nor do I believe that religion can flourish, in an atmosphere of compulsion or restraint. I do not think that compulsion could ultimately be in the interests of the Churches, nor to the advantage of the Service chaplains, nor right for the individual officer or soldier.
For these reasons, and for many others which I could give, while I cannot for technical reasons accept this proposed Clause as it is, as some hon. Members have already apprehended, I have decided that in clue time steps will be taken to cancel or modify those paragraphs of King's Regulations which provide for compulsory church attendance in the Army. I was not precipitate in that decision, although I have long held this view. I have taken due consultation with people on the widest plane before I definitely decided to announce it. I shall take 733 note of the suggestions which have been made during this Debate in deciding upon the form of the new Regulations. I hope the Committee will note this, because I do not want any misunderstanding about it, and I think it was anticipated to some extent by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dudley (Colonel Wigg) and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Lieut.-Colonel Thorp). It may well be, for example, that we shall want to retain the right of ordering parades in connection with religious services on certain national or local occasions. Of course that requires examination, and in this matter I am speaking after consultation with, and after decisions have been taken by, the Air Ministry, because, of course, this is the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill.
In the meantime, the present Regulations will continue in force. This should be clearly understood so that there shall not be any misapprehension about it outside, and particularly in the Army. No one wants young men to get into trouble or to have any confusion about this matter. I also wish to make it abundantly clear to the House and to the whole country that this step in no way represents a separation of the Army from religion. On the contrary, it is my belief that the religious life of the Army will be strengthened and made more real I am hoping to develop what is called the "padre's hour," which brings the padre into very close touch with young men. I think my hon. Friends will also agree that in the peculiar conditions of the Army there is no place where a man will talk more intimately of the things that are worrying him than in the Army, if he can get the right man to talk to.
I will conclude by saying briefly why I cannot accept the Clause which ha., been moved by my hon. Friend and his supporters. The Army Act, in so far as it provides for matters of discipline, lays down what are offences and what the appropriate punishments are. For instance, it is an offence under Section 9 to disobey in a wilful and defiant manner any lawful command. But the Act does not purport to define what is or is not a lawful coma and. It is a well established principle of military law that a lawful command must be one relating to military duty. It would not be lawful to 734 order a soldier to attend a religious service unless such an attendance were made a matter of military duty. At present attendance at divine service is made a matter of military duty, so far as the Army is concerned, by paragraph 1605 of King's Regulations.
The appropriate way, therefore, to secure the object of the proposed Clause will be to cancel or modify the relevant King's Regulations. In so far as this had the result of placing attendance at religious services outside the sphere of military duty it would no longer be lawful for an officer to order attendance or to treat neglect to go to church as an offence under Section 40. Bearing in mind the view I have stated, also that I accept the principle of the new Clause, I ask my hon. Friend to withdraw it in order that I might have the opportunity of properly dealing with this matter.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Will the right hon. Gentleman say if the House will be given an opportunity to discuss the new Regulations, or, at any rate, to consider them before they become effective?
§ Mr. Lawson
I could not answer that question immediately, but I will give it what sympathetic consideration I can.
What we are discussing this morning is in relation to the Army and the Air Force. Will my right hon. Friend have conversations with the First Lord of the Admiralty to see whether these arrangements can be made in line in all the Services?
§ Mr. Lawson
If the House desires me to have conversations, I can, but this morning I am dealing with the Army and Air Force and can only speak for them. My Noble Friend the Secretary of State for Air, and the Under-Secretary, are going to adapt their Regulations.
Lieutenant Herbert Huģhes (Wolver-hampton, West)
While welcoming the Minister's assurance, might I ask if he will at the same time look into King's Regulations regarding the registering of a soldier's religious denomination to see that those who wish to be registered as agnostic or atheist have an equal right with those of a religious denomination?
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Walkden
In preparing the proposed Amendment giving authority for local, as distinct from national, parades, will the right hon. Gentleman exercise every precaution to see to it that no ordinary person of very junior rank can order that such a parade shall or shall not take place?
§ Mr. Lawson
I think the Debate this morning will show that the High Command are very careful about that matter.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for what he has said. In view of the assurance he has given, that despite the technical difficulties, he is accepting the principle and intention of the new Clause, and on the understanding that "in due time" means as soon as possible, and that the Regulations will be drafted very carefully, especially as regards local observances, I have great pleasure in asking leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
Is it the pleasure of the Committee that the Motion be withdrawn?
Sir W. Darlinģ
Before the Motion is withdrawn, may I ask the Secretary of State for War a question, arising out of the somewhat curious statement which seems to say to the hon. Members behind him that he agrees with them, and to the Opposition that he agrees with them also? Will he tell the Committee that before he brings this historic change about in the character of the British Army, the House will have an opportunity of discussing it?
§ Mr. Lawson
I would like to do that myself, but I am very cautious in that matter as I come from near Scotland. I am not sure about the law on the matter of laying Regulations. I am glad I did agree with hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, and I am more pleased still that the Committee have accepted the essence of the statement I have made, which is the essence of the Amendment.
§ Sir G. Fox
Might I ask the Under-Secretary of State for Air if he will give an assurance that the Air Force will be 736 informed that there will be no change until the Regulations reach the units, because the Secretary of State for War made it quite clear that he was going to ensure that in regard to the Army, but did not say that the same would be done as regards the Air Force?
§ Briģadier Low (Blackpool, North)
Will I be in Order in making a few remarks before we give permission for the Motion to be withdrawn?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The Committee has already refused permission for the Motion to be withdrawn and, therefore. in due course, I must put it.
§ Briģadier Low
The Secretary of State for War in his statement this morning never gave the Committee any hint of what the present practice in the Army is in connection with church parades. I wish he had done so, because I believe there is a mistaken impression in the minds of hon. Members opposite of what, in fact, takes place. I am in general agreement with much of what the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. J. Freeman) said in his very reasonable approach to the problem. It is a most important problem and suffers too often from over statement.
There is one matter which has not been put before the Committee and which is vital. It is that we should not deprive an individual just because he enters the Army, of his right to freedom of worship nor compel him to worship. But that is treating the soldier entirely as a civilian. I think too often we hear the phrase "civilian Army." It is perfectly true that the Army today consists of others than those who have volunteered. But when a soldier enters the Army and becomes a soldier or an officer he is a slightly different person from the private individual. One has to take into consideration slightly different factors than those which would apply to the ordinary private individual. It would be disastrous if the Secretary of State put into force in the Regulations anything which forbade once and for all a compulsory church parade. I do not want to be misunderstood about this matter. I am generally sympathetic with the sentiments that lay behind the proposal but there are occasions, proved 737 so often during the war, during the fight, when morale had sunk low and our fortunes were bad, when the Army as a whole and every soldier in the Army benefited a great deal from a compulsory church service.— [Interruption.]—That is a fact which will not be familiar to some hon. Members opposite who did not have the experience. I can assure them that it is true. It is a fact which may not be accepted by some. I am sure the Secretary of State has advisers who will tell him that there are many examples where morale was improved, and the happiness and confidence, if hon. Members like to put it that way, of each individual soldier was improved by attendance at such services. That is perhaps difficult to understand in this House where we treat everything from the point of view of the private individual.
I stress once again that in considering this most important subject, and applying to it all the seriousness with which I know the Secretary of State and every hon. Gentleman who has spoken from the opposite side of the Committee has approached the problem, we must remember that there is great difference in the way we look at it as private. individuals, compared with the way in which it is considered by those who are within the Army facing dangers and so on. They are more than private individuals; they are part of a corporate body. We should be very careful before we deprive those who lead the Army of a thing that, as a matter of tradition and as a matter of actual fact, has been of the greatest value in fostering and improving the morale of the soldier. I have one more point to make, and that is in connection with the chaplain. I was very glad to hear the many tributes which have been paid to the work done by the chaplains' service. I would like just to contradict one remark which I think was made by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberģ) that a chaplain is a less good chaplain because he is wearing officer's uniform.
I did not say that he was less good. I said that it was really more difficult for him to do his job as effectively as he might do it. That is rather a different point.
§ Briģadier Low
It is a slightly different point. I give the hon. Gentleman that. 738 However, he conveyed the impression that he was a less good chaplain. I would rebut that. As the hon. Gentleman must have heard from his many friends, there is no bar to a good officer, or a man dressed in officer's uniform, understanding the needs of the other ranks. That has been shown over and over again in all three Services during the war. Having made those two points, I ask the Secretary of State to consider very carefully, as I am sure he will, before upsetting once and for all this tradition of the Army.
§ Sir W. Darlinģrose—
On a point of Order, Mr. Beaumont. May I draw your attention to the fact that it was the hon. and gallant Member for Henley (Sir G. Fox) who was the only one who objected when the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberģ) begged leave to withdraw the Motion, and that he left the House at two minutes past one as soon as he had made his objection?
Sir W. Darlinģ
A certain amount of deep feeling and concern has been expressed on the matter which we are discussing. Personally I am surprised, but I am deeply grateful to the Secretary of State for War for his consideration. I understand that he is going to look at this matter again. I would like to add my arguments and expressions of opinion in support of the view that he should not change King's Regulations in this matter. The hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberģ) described a church parade, either on the opinion of a constituent or on his personal experience—I do not know which —as an institution which was a cause of irritation. I have taken part in many hundreds of church parades as a private soldier, a non-commissioned officer and an officer, and I never had any such experience, nor did I find among my comrades any such experience. The Secretary of State for War is bringing before the Committee this morning—and I would remind him of the fact—the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill. It is not consideration of the feelings of individual soldiers or the preconceptions of politicians who may have served in the Army, with which he is concerned. He is concerned with the Army. Anything which is going to 739 improve the Army is his deep and profound concern.
The soldier is not a civilian. The soldier is a dedicated man. He is a man who has dedicated himself to the service of his God, his King, and his country. He has sworn on oath and we cannot divest him from that sense of religion which is embodied in that decision. I do not understand how it is possible to ignore the importance of the discipline of the soul when one is concerned also with the discipline of the body. I was profoundly impressed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Briģadier Peto), who speaks with the knowledge of two wars. I was profoundly impressed by what he said regarding the act of family worship. The soldier is divorced from his family. He is removed from the comforts and supports and stays of civil life. He finds himself a member of a great comradeship and it is in the church parade that he has the equivalent act of family worship which he has left behind him in his home. It would be wrong if His Majesty's Government, under the direction of the Secretary of State for War this morning, decided to deny that corporate act of worship which soldier find so necessary and so inspiring.
These men have to march together, they have to fight together and to die together in discipline. Is the Secretary of State for War to deny them the right of worship together?—[Horn. MEMBERS: "No."]—I beg of the Secretary of State for War to remember that this is part of the fighting tradition without which no Army has ever fought battles and won. The religion of an Army is the greatest and soundest prop of its morale. Is the Minister going to tell the House of Commons that the great leaders of the armies of freedom in the past have been wrong? If he takes the advice of the hon. Member for Maldon, he will believe that Cromwell knew nothing about the inspiration of men to battle; that the leaders of the Covenant knew nothing about the need of religion to arm the fighting man; that great commanders like Nelson, Drake, Wellington and Haig, like Montgomery and Alexander knew, and know, nothing of the value of disciplined religion. If he is to take from the Army this support to the morale of the people of this country he, in my humble submission, is not discharging the duties of 740 a Secretary of State for War. This is not a matter of individual opinion, or a matter of surrender to that loose tradition of Socialism which characterises our political life; this is a question of the maintenance of a great instrument of State. I beg the Secretary of State for War not to weaken an instrument for which he should be proud to be responsible today.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Astor (Surrey, Eastern)
I do not want to detain the Committee for very long. At the moment we cannot be certain as to what will be the outcome of this new Clause. I would like to balance one or two arguments that we have heard. It seems to me that the argument advanced in favour of the new Clause has been that the principle involved is that of freedom of worship. I believe this is a misconception. The principle involved in this particular case is more important. It is the extent to which a commander in the field will be responsible for the maintenance of the morale and discipline of the troops under his command. I feel that that is really the matter which has to be tackled. On the matter of freedom of worship, we are all, I am sure, in complete and absolute agreement.
The Army is a society in itself, living its own life within the wider life of the civilian population. It is training for particular functions in times of peace and a very vital function in times of war. I suggest that hon. Members who support the new Clause—I think, with very little experience of the matter—are in a poor position to judge the psychological effect on morale of a commander ordering a compulsory church parade. We have heard hon. Members who have been in uniform only a short time, or not at all, talking so blandly on this matter against the extremely strong evidence of well reputed commanders in the past. The main point is that the principle involved is the extent to which we shall allow a commander in the field to determine how he can influence morale and discipline. One of the commander's functions in battle is to get a concerted and welded team together, and he should be allowed to use any normal means he likes with that object in view. I appreciate that the power of compulsory parades can be abused, and if any- 741 thing can be done so that they are conducted in a better spirit, I think the Secretary of State will be acting very wisely and very rightly in that respect, but that, in itself, is no argument for depriving a commander, in particular cases, of the power of ordering compulsory church parades.
§ Question," That the Clause be read Second time," put, and negatived.
§ " Provided that if the soldier shall have been on service in a foreign country when he became absent without leave and shall not afterwards surrender or not be apprehended within a period of twelve months and his wife or father or mother shall testify that they have no knowledge of his whereabouts nor have had any communication from him since the time when he became absent without leave, the previous declaration of the court of inquiry shall be annulled and the soldier shall be presumed to have been killed while on active service."—[Mr. Stephen.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
About 16 months ago, in the last Parliament, the hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison), on the Motion for the Adjournment, raised a very important question—the question of the treatment of the dependants of soldiers who, while on active service, disappeared and had been adjudged by a court of inquiry to be absent without leave, because nothing was known of what had happened to them. On that occasion, the hon. Member who was deputising for the Secretary of State for War advised the House that the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh would be fully considered and that he would report it to the Secretary of State. As far as I am aware, nothing has been done in order to provide some concession in the treatment of the dependants of these soldiers and also in regard to the soldiers themselves.
The position is that, if a man disappears while he is in a foreign country and becomes absent without leave, although nothing is known of what has happened to him, a court of inquiry con- 742 siders the circumstances and comes to a decision. That is very unfortunate, when there is no one to tell exactly what has happened. I have myself a constituent who has appealed to me in connection with the disappearance of her husband. The man has been in the Army for about five years. He had served about three and a half years in Italy, and, while serving there, he went out one night and was not heard of again. A court of inquiry was held and evidently decided that the man was absent without leave and had deserted. I took up the case with the Secretary of State for War, and received a letter, from which I will quote:I should explain that, if a soldier is absent without leave for a period exceeding seven days, Family Allowance, a contribution from Army Funds payable to a soldier's wife towards the maintenance of the soldier's home, becomes inadmissible, and the Army Allowance Book is withdrawn from issue until such time as it is confirmed that the soldier has either been apprehended or rejoined his unit. When the Regimental Paymaster was notified from North Africa on 16th October, 1944, that this man had been absent from 26th August, 1944, and still remained absent on the eighth day, and he had no alternative but to recall the Army Allowance Book.I have had a certain amount of other correspondence with the War Office on this case, and the last letter I received was on r2th March, in which I am informed:I am sorry that the inquiries into this case have taken so long, but very detailed investigations have been made. The proceedings of the court of inquiry held into Private Telfer's absence from duty have been sent from overseas and carefully examined. Statements have now been obtained from the officers concerned, and, although, in cases such as this, there must always be the possibility of foul play or misadventure, it is not considered that there is sufficient evidence in this particular case to warrant interference with the declaration of the court of inquiry.I would like the Committee to note these words—there must always be the possibility of foul play or misadventure.It is on that sentence that I am basing my case for some modification being made by the War Office in dealing with such cases. It should be obvious to anyone that, for example, when our Forces are in Italy, men can go out, possibly for a stroll, go down a side street and disappear.
§ Mr. Stephen
As my hon. Friend says, it has happened many times, and, obviously, the man may have been done to death by some of the people in that neighbourhood. Nothing can be discovered about his whereabouts. I may be told that, on the other hand, a man may go down a side street to become a deserter. I am willing to admit that that also may have happened in various cases. Even in those cases, if the man has deserted, there is the probability that he would still retain something of his family associations and find an opportunity of sending a letter to his people, which he could easily frame in a way that would make it impossible for his whereabouts to be traced. But in those cases where the folks at home are heartbroken because years pass and no word comes, there should be a presumption that the man has been done to death, and he should be regarded as one of the casualties of war.
In this new Clause that I propose I make the provision that a case should be reconsidered after a certain period of time. If relatives—the wife or the father or mother testify that they have had no communication from the man and have heard nothing of him, the previous declaration of the court of inquiry should be annulled, and the man should be presumed to have been killed while on active service. I know that there is always a very great unwillingness on the part of the representatives of the War Office to accept any amendment of the Army Annual Bill, and, as happened with regard to the preceding proposed new Clause, there are technical objections to alterations being accepted in Committee. I have been long enough in the House of Commons to know the difficulties we have always experienced in dealing with amendments to the Army Annual Bill, but, nevertheless, I hope that we shall receive some concession from the War Office. The concession in regard to church parades has already been made, and I feel that something should be done in this case. Other hon. Members have spoken to me very strongly on this matter since I put down the proposed new Clause, and have given me cases in their own constituencies of people in similar circumstances to those I have mentioned today. I think that some consideration in connection with this matter is overdue.
744 The hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh was fortunate enough, many months afterwards, to have his case reconsidered, and the man was presumed to have died on active service. While that is all to the good, there is also a need for a certain general modification by the War Office, so that it will no longer simply be particular cases which are brought up by Members of Parliament which will be dealt with, but something will be done to deal with the whole of the cases in a general way. I bring forward this new Clause in the hope that the War Office will do something to remedy a grievance felt by very many hon. Members, and one which is felt very deeply by the dependants of many brave men who have lost their lives while serving in another country but who, because exact knowledge of how their lives were lost is not available, have remained under the stigma of being deserters or absent without leave. I do ask the War Office to make some concession in this connection.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
I have the greatest possible pleasure in supporting the new Clause, and I would go further and say that, while we desire to protect not only the interests of the man and his dependants, but also the interests which may be regarded by the War Office as the interests of the country, we think it is a mean policy to adopt to deprive the dependants of their allowances in such cases. I, like the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), have had two outstanding cases of this type. I am amazed at the attitude of the Service Departments, which believe that they must always be in the right and make the decisions, even where the individuals' families are concerned, and where it can be testified that the people who have disappeared are of the very highest character. No consideration is given to the question as to whether or not the individual is likely to be a person who would divorce himself willingly from his wife and children or from his father and mother. Most people know that even some of the meanest of human types in society have a tremendous regard for those who are associated with them in family life, and they would not willingly place them in a state of torture and disappear for a period of years.
Where an individual has been taken abroad and is on active service, as the 745 hon. Member for Camlachie says, there is always the possibility, if he disappears, that it may be one or the other—he may have deserted and be still alive, perhaps in hiding with other people, but there is always also the very strong chance that the individual is dead. During the period of the war we know that there have been many tragedies and brutalities; even apart from the actual fighting; brawls have taken place and there have been suspicions and cases of mistaken identity. People have received a bullet in the back and the bodies have been disposed of. The Service Departments, however, take little or no notice of that. If I may cite an example, I remember going about Barcelona during the Spanish civil war with Professor Challaye, of Paris University; we were investigating secret Communist prisons in that country and we were followed and pursued, so that eventually the professor deemed it wise that we should get out of the country in case we should be disposed of in that summary way. I would not like to think that if I had been disposed of in that way even an insurance company, after a year or two, would have refused to pay my insurance policy to my wife or dependants. Insurance companies are always willing to have a case brought up and to have death presumed if an individual cannot be traced within a reasonable period, but the War Office, the great totalitarian State machine—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is what the War Office is, the Air Force and the Admiralty; they are totalitarian State machines and they apply their views in a rigid manner towards the individuals concerned.
There must be something very wrong in this country and in this House of Commons when we have no means of checking up and of getting reports on all the individuals who have disappeared and of finding out exactly how many people there are who are suffering in back streets, because of the refusal of the War Office and the other Service Departments to face their responsibilities. The fact that there are only a comparatively few men in this position makes it more insistent that justice should be done in these individual cases.
The Service Departments take a man away, the husband and the breadwinner, 746 and send him to a foreign country. If he is a deserter he is, perhaps, thrown into association with evil individuals abroad. But the Service Departments go farther and deprive that man's wife and family of their allowances. They drive them to the public assistance committee in order to secure relief. The wives, fathers and mothers of missing men, if those missing men are in far distant lands, have no means of determining whether the missing men are dead or alive. The character of the individual who has disappeared ought to be one of the outstanding considerations to be taken into account. There should be investigation into his character, into the question whether or not he was a good family man; whether he was likely to deprive his wife and children of support and to subject them to the mental torture, which they suffer in their ignorance of his fate. It is bad enough to be subjected to mental torture. The Service Departments subject those unfortunate people to indignity and humiliation by depriving them of their allowances. We say that, if after 12 months the War Office or other Service Departments cannot prove that the missing man has deserted, and if the testimony of his wife or parents is that they have had no word from him and know nothing of him, his death should be presumed; and that the pension should be paid to the missing man's wife.
The War Office will probably say that if an individual has deserted, but eventually turns up, they will have paid out money mistakenly. That would be a new doctrine. After all, in the case of a man who deserts his wife in civil life, the local authority does not say to the wife, "Your husband is alive and we refuse to grant you an allowance." What they do is to give the full allowance. Then, when the husband is traced or apprehended, he is put on trial and a penalty is imposed upon him. That penalty is a much better one than that which the Service Departments impose. A new approach ought to be made to this problem. It has certain difficulties, but difficulties are only things to be overcome by an intelligent and humane approach.
§ Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)
Does the hon. Member really suggest that a man should not be classed as a deserter when there is evidence that he actually deserted?
§ Mr. McGovern
I do not suggest that. What we do say is that there should be a court of inquiry into the case. Take the case of the letter which the hon. Member fur Camlachie has cited. The Service Department admits there that there may be a case of foul play. If there is any doubt, the benefit of the doubt should go to the individual. We say the contrary course is not worthy of a country like this that is building up a citizen Army of the people of the country. Probably it will be more and more so in the future. If the people begin to feel the State really owns the country, they may then feel it is 'worth defending, and if they feel that, they ought to have all the guarantees of decent treatment. The approach that is made now to this problem is the old military approach, that the War Office or Service Departments can do no wrong. We say that in many cases they are doing wrong and doing injustice, and we plead that that should be rectified. We hope that the War Office will give us some encouragement in these cases, which are comparatively few.
§ Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)
Perhaps it is unusual for a sailor to take part in a discussion which is entirely confined to a Bill concerning the Army and the Air Force, but the reason I do so is a very good one. It was mentioned by the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) that I myself raised in this House on the Adjournment on 12th December, 1944, a case of precisely the same nature as those which this new Clause is designed to cover. I do not know whether the present Financial Secretary to the War Office has ever studied the case I raised. It was that of a lance-corporal named Norris who disappeared in mysterious circumstances in India. As a result of the prominence which the case received after being raised in this House, the Secretary of State made very close inquiry into it, and eventually an almost unique occurrence happened—a court of inquiry finding was quashed by the War Office, and the soldier was declared to be missing. He is still presumed to be missing, not to have been killed, as the hon. Member for Camlachie suggested.
It is not my intention to go into that case in detail now, because other hon. Members wish to speak on this Clause, but briefly, the position was this. The 748 soldier disappeared after leaving a military hospital and while on his way back to his unit. Owing to some extraordinary negligence on the part of the military authorities in India, his disappearance was not discovered until four months later, when his wife wrote to the commanding officer of his unit saying she had had no letters from her husband and asking whether anything had happened to him. It was only then that his disappearance came to light. A court of inquiry was convened some five months after his disappearance, and that court found him illegally absent under the terms of Section 72, Subsection (1), of the Army Act. Later on, as, of course, he never appeared again, he became classified as a deserter under Subsection (2) of the same Act.
I think that case illustrates a certain weakness in the present procedure, because, as I said at the time, nobody, not even Scotland Yard, could be expected to unravel a mystery five months old in a country like India. I do feel that the court of inquiry was somewhat peculiar in coming to the decision it did, and that the Secretary of State was more than justified in overruling it. But one is led to the conclusion that there may be other courts of inquiry being held which may also come to rather peculiar findings, and that better rules or regulations could be laid down for dealing with cases of this nature. I am no expert in military or naval law, but I have always been of the opinion that rules and regulations dealing with courts martial are reasonably simple and plain for everybody to understand.
The rules and regulations of courts of inquiry on the other hand are rather more flexible, and do not seem to me to be satisfactory. There could be a good deal of tightening up of the legal code covering courts of inquiry and their findings. I reinforce the plea, made by the hon. Member for Camlachie, to deal with this question with sympathy. I mentioned, during the Debate on the Adjournment, the possibility of a soldier disappearing from an army of occupation owing to the activities of an underground movement. It seems reasonable to imagine that a sentry might be hit over the head by a Nazi saboteur, and it would appear that there have been cases of soldiers disappearing in Italy, presumably as a result of the activities of bandits. In reply to my plea on 749 that occasion, the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith), in the absence of the Financial Secretary, stated:If a soldier did disappear, it may be presumed that the commanding officer would be alive to the possibility of foul play, and would cause immediate investigations to be made into that possibility. If there were any reason to suspect foul play, the court of inquiry would be informed, and would take that into account. In order, however, to make quite certain that courts of inquiry do consider the possibility of foul play, instructions are being issued."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th December, 1944; Vol. 406, C. 1205.]I would join with hon. Members who want to know a little bit more about the instructions which have been given. I consider that there is a case for review and alteration of the regulations. I should not go so far as to support the new Clause in the precise form in which it has been put on the Order Paper, but I support the substance and principle behind it, and urge the War Office and the Air Ministry to give more sympathetic consideration to the points put forward.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
The case for amending Section 72 of the Army Act;s much wider, and of much more importance, than has been suggested by hon. Members who have so far addressed the Committee. During the last few years of the war, I had something to do with the administration of Section 72, and, although I am afraid my remarks must be rather technical, I hope that I may be able to make some useful intervention in this discussion. In order to understand the effect of this Section, it is necessary to refer to two other Sections of the Army Act, namely, Sections 136 and 138. Section 136 provides that soldiers' pay shall be paid without any deductions whatever, other than such as may be authorised by any other Act or by a Royal Warrant. Section 138 provides for penal deductions being made from a soldiers' pay, including stoppages of all ordinary pay during any period of 'absence without leave or desertion.
The important thing to note about these two Sections is that they are entirely separate and do not overlap one another. Section 136 is a non-penal provision, and merely permits deductions to be made in respect of things which are not offences. An obvious example is the recovery of over-issues which have been accidentally made to a man. Section 138, on the other 750 hand, is a penal Section. Before a man can be affected by that Section, he must have done something wrong, and, furthermore, and this is essential, he must be found to have done something wrong in accordance with the law. In the ordinary way it will be as a result of a charge before his commanding officer. If a man is absent without leave, and his commanding officer, on his return, finds that he is not guilty of an illegal absence, and dismisses the charge, there can be no forfeiture of pay in respect of his absence. Turning to Section 72 of the Act, this provides that, when a man has been absent without leave for 21 days, a court of inquiry has to be held, and if they are satisfied that the soldier has absented himself without leave or other sufficient cause, they have to make a declaration, which, in fact, amounts to a sort of temporary conviction of desertion.
The Committee will see from what I have said, that the effect of this Section 72 is quite exceptional, and legalises a conviction in a man's absence. The very nature of the offence of desertion, or of prolonged absence without leave, makes it impossible for a man to be present to defend himself, and so, in the case of this particular offence, and this one only, the law allows a conviction, or rather the consequences of a conviction, without a man having had a chance to defend himself. Without such machinery the pay of a deserter cannot be stopped. But there is something more important: until this machinery has been employed, the man is not guilty, and his pay cannot be legally stopped. This is extremely important. No man, not even a soldier, is punished until he has been shown to be guilty by the proper machinery.
The absent soldier is not guilty until one of two things has occurred: either, until he has returned to his unit, been put on a charge and found guilty, by court martial or by his commanding officer, or alternatively, until a court has been held under Section 72 of the Army Act. There are two consequences of that. The first is that the Army Council have no right whatever to stop a man's pay until after a court of inquiry has been held under Section 72 of the Army Act, and secondly, that the court to be held under that Section is a judicial body which should satisfy itself that the man is, indeed, guiltily absent. Its functions 751 are not merely to find the fact of absence, but to decide the question of illegal absence. As regards the first point, the question of the illegality of stopping pay before the court has sat, it has always seemed to me that the present rule, to which the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) referred, by which all issues from a soldiers pay and allowances are stopped after seven days of absence, and 14 days before this court can be held, is entirely illegal. It does not matter much about the pay position, because, obviously, the man is not there to draw it, but that part of a man's emoluments which goes direct to his family, that is to say, the allotment from his pay, usually with an allowance, but sometimes without, is a very different matter. I do not believe that as the law stands the Army Council have any right whatever to stop a man's pay until the provisions of Section 72 have been fully complied with—that is to say, until after 21 days have elapsed and the court of inquiry has declared that the man is illegally absent. I should like to have a reply on that point from the Financial Secretary to the War Office who, I understand, is to reply.
I think that Section 72 urgently requires redrafting. It is completely out of date in the light of modern conditions of warfare and of travel and, indeed, of soldiering. Many soldiers' families have suffered great hardship not only financially but, as has so eloquently been pointed out by hon. Members below the Gangway, also mental hardship because of the way the Army Act is being applied, or perhaps I should say misapplied, when a soldier is absent for some perfectly justifiable or possibly meritorious reason. There were a number of cases which I think led to some modification of the rules, as for instance, when during the war a man got delayed in returning from leave owing to the ships being delayed and this was not known to the authorities immediately concerned because of reasons of security. That forced the hand of the Army Council and obliged them to extend the period to 14 days. Even so I am not certain that 14 days is legal. I believe the allowance must continue until 21 days have elapsed arid an inquiry has been held.
There are also converse cases. A man under the law as it now stands can deliberately desert to the enemy and while 752 he is in the hands of the enemy no court of inquiry can be held, because the man cannot be found illegally absent when, in fact, the man is classed as a prisoner of war. In those circumstances, the relatives of the man who has committed a very grave offence indeed will continue to be eligible to draw full pay and allowances possibly over a period of years. That is a serious anomaly in the present law, and I think it is high time, although these cases are fortunately extremely few in number, that that state of affairs is changed. As to the rather special type of case, to which hon. Members below the Gangway have referred, it arises largely, if not entirely, because the wording of Section 72 suggests that all a court of inquiry has to do is to inquire into the fact of absence and not also into the question of guilty absence.
In this country when a man disappears without any explanation it may be virtually certain that he is wilfully absent and some sort of corroborative evidence can be got through the police. It is an entirely different matter, however, if a man disappears while serving overseas, especially under active service conditions. I think under such circumstances a man should not be presumed illegally absent without some positive evidence to that effect, and the Army Act should make this perfectly clear. There is some doubt as to whether this is the effect of the Motion, and I know from my own experience that those responsible for administering the Act do so without any thought as to their obligation to consider the judicial functions which a court has to fulfil.
I do not believe that these cases can be remedied by the proposed Clause. It would not relieve the injustice and the hardship in many of them as indeed, the sponsors of the Clause have admitted. It would, moreover, result, as I have suggested, in a few scoundrels getting their families maintained quite unjustifiably at the public expense for a long period. On the other hand, I think it is essential that Section 72 of the Army Act should be recast immediately so as to fit in with modern needs and conditions. It should provide that a court of inquiry is to be held after a much shorter period than 21 days, possibly seven days, and it should be more explicit as to the evidence on which the court should arrive at a 753 decision adverse to the man. I think the law should distinguish between home and overseas, because certainly, in any overseas case, it should be beyond any doubt at all that the court has considered whether or not the evidence suggests that a man is a deserter or absent without leave.
I feel extremely strongly on this question. I, too, have cases arising in my constituency in which individuals have suffered not only financial hardship but grave indignity as a result of the operation of the Section. I feel that it is entirely wrong that a Government Department such as the War Office, and, I assume also, the Air Ministry, should be constantly breaking the law by stopping these allowances contrary to what I think is the express provision of the Act. It is essential that the Government should consider recasting the Section altogether. If the Government are not willing to indicate that they will put this matter in hand, and the sponsors of the new Clause feel it should be pressed in the Division Lobby, I should have no hesitation in voting with them to express the urgency of this matter.
§ Mrs. Middleton (Plymouth, Sutton)
I desire to address the Committee in support of this Motion from the point of view of women dependants who suffer in this regard. Perhaps I can most easily make my point by telling the Committee of a case from my own constituency which I have been handling just recently. It concerns a woman whose husband was missing in this way during the 1914–18 war. Just before the end of hostilities she lost all trace of him and so did the War Office. All the efforts she and the War Office have made in the interval to trace his whereabouts have been unavailing, with the result she has for a period of 27 years maintained her home and brought up her family without any help in so doing. She has now just about reached the age of 60, and she wrote to me to ask whether it was possible for me to obtain for her an ordinary civilian widow's pension. Unfortunately, she is not qualified. All these years she has been debarred from a Service pension and she has been debarred from any maintenance allowance for her children.
Today, this woman is debarred from the ordinary civilian widows' pension and 754 seemingly there is no alternative before her but to continue to work until she is 70 years of age, when she qualifies for the non-contributory pension or goes to the public assistance authorities to get maintenance in that way. It is deplorable that a woman who has been self-respecting and hard-working all those years and whose husband, prior to his call-up, had a fine personal record in the area in which he lived, should be forced into that position. It is because I can see that this sort of thing has operated not only in this case, but in a large number of other similar cases, and may so operate as the result of the recent war, that I want to give my strong support to the plea which has been made by the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) for an Amendment of the Army Act in this respect.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter(Kingston upon Thames)
The Committee are much indebted to the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) for having raised this serious matter, and for having given us an opportunity to discuss it. It may well be that very few individuals are concerned, but it is equally the case that the matter, as affecting those few individuals, is of the greatest seriousness. It is an appalling thought that the widow and family of a brave man who has lost his life on active service should not only be deprived of any financial recompense from the War Department, but should also have to live under the stigma that her husband was a deserter when, in fact, he might have been nothing of the sort. It is outrageous that the mere possibility of such a state of affairs should he allowed to continue.
I believe that possibility is a substantial one. The hon. Member for Camlachie referred to a disappearance from the Forces in Italy. I had the privilege of serving in that theatre of war, and I know that in an appreciable number of cases, inevitably perhaps in the conditions which existed then, men used to disappear in Italian towns. In a certain number of those cases the cause of the disappearance became only too manifest when the body of the man was found, he having been murdered. It fell to my disagreeable lot to have the task of trying the alleged murderers, and the nature of the facts that came out convinced me that there must be a certain number of cases of 755 undetected murders. That being so, it is almost inevitably the case that a murdered soldier having been found an absentee or deserter by a court of inquiry after 21 days, the consequences are that hi; wife and family, through no fault of anybody, except the War Office system, are deprived of support.
I am glad, therefore, that the hon. Member for Camlachie has brought this matter before us today, but I am not convinced that he has gone the perfect way to remedying it. I believe that rather than introduce into the Army Act the not very workable Clause which he has proposed, the remedy can be found by proper working of the existing system, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for South Hendon (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) Section 72 of the Army Act states that there lies on the court of inquiry the dutyto inquire, in the prescribed manner, on oath or solemn declaration, respecting the fact of such absence…and, if satisfied, of the fact of such soldier having absented himself without leave, or other sufficient cause….There is very little doubt that, as a matter of custom, that duty is not fully discharged by a court of inquiry. I have had the disagreeable task of reading hundreds of reports from such courts. The procedure has become a formality, and I suggest to the Financial Secretary that part of the present difficulty might be met by an administrative instruction that Section 72 of the Army Act shall he fully implemented. I would also coin-mend to his attention the suggestion that it should be considered material for the court of inquiry to consider the character of the man. There must be many men, in many units, whose commanding officers, or company commanders, would be prepared to give evidence that from their knowledge of the man's character they are certain that he would not desert, or willingly be absent. If a unit has been together for a long time a considerable number of men must be in a position where their company commander would be proud to say that of them.
If it is, however, impossible to come to a decision for reasons of absence, then surely a soldier on active service is entitled to the same benefit of the doubt as is given to an accused man at the Old Bailey. If the evidence is not clear one way or the other, why should not a man have the benefit of the doubt? At present, a 756 court of inquiry owing, I think, to a misunderstanding of Section 72, merely finds the fact of absence. Yet it is on that, if nothing further transpires, that it is considered that a man has deserted. This is borne out by Subsection (2) of Section 72. I hope I may say, without impertinence, that the proposed new Clause is not satisfactory. The provision that one or other of the main relatives of the man shall testify is not quite adequate because it does not provide to whom the relative shall testify, whether he shall succeed in putting up a reasonable case, or whether the mere fact of testification shall be adequate. I feel extremely strongly on this matter, and unless there is a sympathetic reply from the Government I shall be glad to follow the hon. Member for Camlachie into the Division Lobby, should he decide to press his new Clause.
I feel that the new Clause raises a very real difficulty, and a very real problem. If my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary will look up the records of courts of inquiry held under Section 72 of the Army Act he will find that in the very large majority of cases the only evidence given before the inquiry was that the man was absent. In most cases it may be sufficient, after a mere 21 days, to presume that the man was absent without leave. But when additional time has expired the whole quality of the evidence changes. Put yourself into the position of a court of inquiry in these circumstances. Supposing a man has not returned from leave, or from an afternoon out, the ordinary presumption will be that he will be back before long, and after 24 hours there would not be much anxiety as to his safety. After 21 days, it would be felt that he had been absent for some time, but after a year it would be felt that the effluxion of time was entirely new evidence. The court of inquiry would probably come to an entirely different decision at the end of one year than after 21 days, even though the evidence, other than the effluxion of time, without anything having been found, was the same on both occasions. I ask the hon. Gentleman to give us assurances, that these courts of inquiry where the man has not turned up within the year shall be investigated; that there shall be further inquiry in the light of the new fact that the disappearance is prolonged, and that in future, when these courts of inquiry are held, 757 evidence shall be required which does show that it is a deliberate absence. I suggest that the decision of the court of inquiry should be in the nature of a temporary decision which should automatically be re-investigated at the expiry of a given time if the man is not by then found.
§ 2.15 p.m.
I have no fault to find with the tone of this Debate. It has been very instructive to me, particularly listening to the speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for South Hendon (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth). Army law, like ordinary law, I suppose, is a very difficult problem for those who are not well versed in it. I am not going to say that, with all the resources of the War Office at my command, I understand the Army Act from beginning to end, or even all the implications of Section 72, but what I do hope to show is that, whatever substance there may be behind the case put by the hon. Members for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) and Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) and others, the method proposed to remedy what they allege to be an injustice or a fault is not the right one, as has been pointed out by two hon. Members opposite. I hope that what I am about to say will convince the hon. Members that this is not the right method. The effect of their proposed new Clause in any particular case would be tantamount to a decision of the High Court giving leave to presume death with all the legal consequences that flow from such a decision. In civil cases generally, a period of seven years has to elapse before such a decision can be obtained from the High Court, and the hon. Members, in their new Clause, ask for an automatic decision of the presumption of death to be given 12 months after the court of inquiry has been held and has declared the soldier an absentee.
§ Mr. Stephen
The hon. Gentleman is dealing with very different circumstances. The High Court deals with the case of someone at home. We are dealing with men on the field of war.
That may well be, but I do not think we can make any automatic act unless we have some reasonable grounds for believing that the soldier is not a deserter, that he has met with an accident, or has been the victim of foul 758 play. I do not think the two hon. Members responsible for the new Clause would wish the Army to continue to pay dependants' allowances where there is a clear case of desertion. All they ask is that in those cases where there is a doubt about the absentee being really a deserter, he—and, of course, not only he, but his dependants—might be given the benefit of the doubt. I shall have something to say about that later. I do not think it is Section 72 that is at fault. I think that is quite clear. The machinery is that after seven days' illegal absence—absence without leave—the pay is stopped.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Where does the hon. Gentleman find it in Section 72 that payment is stopped after seven days?
I should have thought it would have followed. If the man is not there to draw his pay, why should his pay go on?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
The allowance is paid directly to his family. Of course, everybody admits that he cannot draw pay if he is not there, but if he has made an allotment to his family, under what power do the Army Council stop the allotment after seven days?
The hon. Baronet will agree that if the man is not there, he therefore cannot draw his pay. One of the contributing factors to the issue of a dependant's allowance or a marriage allowance is the qualifying allotment. If the man's pay is stopped, the qualifying allotment falls, and automatically the marriage allowance or the dependant's allowance ceases. There is no injustice in that. It is a precautionary measure. The man may turn up and he may be able to prove that his absence was not due to his own fault. If that is so, his pay and allowances will continue; but if he does not come back after 21 days, the court of inquiry is assembled. This takes into account all the evidence that can be gathered, and if the man is declared an absentee nothing can be done unless some further evidence is given that the man is not absent without leave.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Will the hon. Gentleman explain to the Committee under what Section of the Army Act or other authority the wives' and dependant's allowances are stopped before the court of inquiry?
I thought I explained that if a man does not draw pay there is no qualifying allotment made, and therefore, the allowances cease automatically.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The qualifying allotment is paid through the Post Office. The pay which the man draws directly is not drawn, but it is not stopped either. It is simply not physically drawn. The qualifying allotment is not affected.
If the pay stops, the man can make no qualifying allotment, and no dependant's allowance or marriage allowance can follow. I want to deal with the substantial point of the case put forward by the two hon. Members who have brought forward the new Clause which has been supported by hon. Members opposite. The case is that abroad, on active service, many men—I am afraid it is a substantial number—have disappeared. I would go so far as to say that most of them have disappeared by acts of their own, and that they have not disappeared because they have met members of the resistance or the underground movements, or because they have met with foul play, but because it suited them to disappear. I think the Committee will agree that in all those cases the consequences of their disappearance should follow. I agree that it is regrettable in those circumstances that their families should suffer, but those who have disappeared must have known fully that their families would suffer by their own acts. I do not think that the Army can be expected to make good the results of suffering caused to these families by the illegal acts of those soldiers.
§ Mr. McGovern
If it can be proved that the man deserted then the verdict should be given accordingly, but not otherwise.
I have to show that in the cases to which the hon. Member referred, Section 72 of the Army Act is being properly administered and that the courts of inquiry which are held to determine reasons for absence of soldiers takes every possible step, on the evidence before them, not to declare a soldier 760 illegally absent unless they have good reason to think that he is. In that respect an Army Council Instruction has recently been issued to make it clear that a soldier must not be declared absent without leave without the careful collection and weighing of any relevant evidence which may tend to show sufficient cause for his absence. In cases where there is reasonable doubt, the Army will reinvestigate cases which have been before the inquiry, as has been experienced by the hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison). In the case which the hon. and gallant Member brought to the attention of the Secretary of State for War my right hon. Friend quashed the conclusions of the court of inquiry. We are prepared to do that in cases where doubt can be cast upon the reasons for the man's disappearance. We shall investigate any case where any evidence whatever can be given to throw doubt on the verdict of the court of inquiry. I do not think that we can be asked to go further than that.
Will my hon. Friend permit me to intervene for a moment? As I understand the instruction to which he referred, it appeared that the instruction was that men were to be presumed absent without leave unless there was evidence to the contrary. That is the way it struck me. Surely, the burden should be the other way, and the soldier is not to be presumed absent without leave unless that has been proved.
Yes. That is the procedure which should be followed. Positive evidence should be brought forward to show that the man is an illegal absentee. The instruction which I have just read emphasises that point.
The unfortunate thing about this House is that there is frequently more than one opinion. I am of the opinion that the Army Council Instruction recently issued informs and orders the court of inquiry not to declare a man an absentee unless there is evidence to show that he is an illegal absentee.
§ Lieut.-Commander Hutchison
Will evidence of good character be taken into consideration in that connection?
Yes. To use a cliché adopted in this House, I should say that all relevant factors will be taken into consideration.
§ Mrs. Middleton rose—
§ 2.30 p.m.
I am trying to show my hon. Friends that the change which has been proposed by them will not do what they want it to do and that in the administration of the machinery which has been set up under Section 72 which will be operated as fairly as possible, all the facts known about the absence of a man will be taken into consideration.
§ Mr. McGovern
We want to have some satisfaction on this point. The satisfaction desired is that the hon. Member must show that courts of inquiry take account of all relevant factors. Can we have an assurance that unless there is proof that a man deserted willingly from his unit, the obligation will be upon the court of inquiry, who must decide something? When the court meets and there is nobody there to prove one thing or the other, the court frequently decides that the man is absent without leave. We want to ensure that evidence is given that the man willingly absented himself from his unit by desertion.
That is a fair point, and I am prepared to give the assurance. Courts of inquiry must and should take those matters into account, and we have done what we can to see that they do so. My hon. Friend is asking that there should be some evidence that the man has absented himself without leave. I entirely agree, and the court of inquiry should follow that procedure. If they do so, and after mature consideration of the evidence and of all the facts, they come to that decision, then I do not think my hon. Friend would be able to say much against it.
§ Mr. McGovern
This point is too important to be allowed to go. It is very simple and slick to say that it must be shown to the court that the man is absent without leave. We know he is absent without leave. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, we do not"] The point is whether he has absented himself willingly.
That is the whole point with which I am trying to agree. The 762 court has to decide upon the evidence available whether the man has absented himself without leave, not that he has been foully done away with or has been the victim of an accident but that, by his own free will he has gone absent. The court can come to that conclusion only upon the evidence available. Mistakes have occurred. The hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh brought to our attention a case which had an element of doubt about it which caused my right hon. Friend to quash the result of a court of inquiry. That case is sufficient to show that we are prepared at the War Office, when we can be convinced that the court of inquiry has either not taken into account all the evidence available or that additional evidence is available, or that there is reasonable doubt, to quash the verdict of the court of inquiry; but I would say that it is only fair that the Army should be given something on which to work. We should not be asked to declare that a man is dead after 12 months, as some hon. Members want us to do, unless there is reason to believe that he is dead or that his absence was not due to his own fault.
It may surprise hon. Members to know that in many cases relatives do not want a missing soldier declared dead after 12 months. For that reason we always take the precaution of consulting the next of kin before we declare the death of a soldier in cases like this. It may seem strange but it is nevertheless true that many relatives or next of kin want to go on hoping that the man will turn up one day and we at the War Office do not think it is right that we should take steps to declare the death of a man in circumstances like that.
While I am not able to accept the proposal of hon. Gentlemen opposite, I hope they will agree to withdraw their proposed new Clause on the assurance I have given. I do not know that we can go as far as my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paģet) suggested and automatically review all the cases that have been before courts of inquiry into missing soldiers but I will look into that suggestion, certainly, and see whether it is possible. I can say this much that where any hon. Member can shake the verdict of a court of inquiry by producing new evidence or can cast doubt on the evidence that has already been submitted and on which the court has come to a 763 decision, we will consider it at the War Office.
§ Mrs. Middleton
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down may I ask whether this will be extended to the case such as I recited of a man who was missing during the 1914–18 war and whose whereabouts have never been discovered in the intervening 25 years?
I am awfully sorry, but I could not give that assurance. I think it is a little unreasonable at this late period—it is 28 years since the end of that war—to ask us to do that.
§ Mr. McGovern
Before the Minister sits down, will he give a guarantee to the Committee that all cases that have been drawn to his Department's attention by hon. Members will be reviewed?
I do not know that I should be asked to do that automatically. After what I have said today, hon. Members who are interested in these cases should not have the slightest doubt that they can take any steps they wish to bring them to the attention of myself and my right hon. Friend and that we shall always be willing to look into them.
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
Is there any difference in procedure regarding deserters under the Section of naval law comparable to Section 72 of the Army Act? Is custom the same—a period of assumed absence without leave and then desertion?
I do not know whether that question is in Order. I should hardly have thought that it arose out of the Bill now under discussion. At any rate, I have complete ignorance of what they do in the Navy.
§ Mr. C. Williams
Surely we are trying to get an improvement. Can the Minister not say that he will look into this and see whether there might not be a better procedure in the Navy that might help on an occasion like this? I think it will be worth his while looking into the matter from that point of view as to whether it might be a help. Will he give an assurance that he will do that?
I am not responsible for the Admiralty, but I will certainly bring to the attention of my hon. Friends 764 at the Admiralty the point put forward by the hon. Gentleman and I have no doubt that their officials will read this Debate very carefully.
§ Mr. Williams
That is not my point. I am sorry I was not clear. Will the hon. Gentleman look into the Admiralty procedure and see if it will help us?
§ Colonel Clarke
The Army on this occasion may have something to teach the Navy. Nothing would be lost by the two systems being compared.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The Minister has referred to a new Army Council instruction with respect to the courts of inquiry. May I put this to him? How does he understand that instruction would apply to what I may term the usual court of inquiry in these cases—a court where there is no evidence other than the fact of absence and the fact of no leave being given? On such evidence, in accordance with this new direction, should a court find wilful absence or not?
That is rather hypothetical. The evidence before the court of inquiry is not what we are discussing. We are discussing how to deal with any evidence brought to the court of inquiry. I think I have satisfied my hon. Friend on that point.
§ Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Central)
What the hon. Gentleman has just said fills me with a considerable amount of alarm. He mentioned earlier the case of individuals who went out to Resistance Groups. I had a little to do with many of those individuals and I can tell him that they and we did everything we could to destroy evidence and that these people went out with the minimum of evidence and with the minimum of possibility of producing proof of death or otherwise. I want some assurance from him that when a case of that kind is treated, the obligation will not be to show that the man is not absent without leave, but the onus will be on the War Office to show that he is absent without leave, and if that cannot be shown he will be given the benefit of every doubt.
I thought I had made it quite clear that the onus is on the court 765 of inquiry to take into account all the evidence that is available, and come to the best possible decision in the circumstances.
§ Colonel Hutchisonrose—
I cannot go any further than that. I have attempted to show that what we are trying to do is to make the machinery set up in Section 72 as—I was going to say water-tight—perfect as possible.
§ Mr. Stephen
In view of the assurances of the hon. Gentleman, we are willing to put him to the test and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Clause.
§ Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. McGovern
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
I do not think this new Clause will receive the same measure of support that the previous Clause received in the Committee. Briefly, the Clause eliminates the death penalty and abolishes all periods of penal servitude over three years. In the new circumstances, and with the prospect of the new order that is just beginning under the Labour regime in this country, I think we might expect also a change of outlook by the new Government, that is if the Government are not to be as Low depicted in his cartoon in the "Evening Standard" last night, and if they have a different mental approach to the problems of the serving men. Therefore, I feel that a large number of severe sentences that have been imposed on serving men for various acts were rather of a vindictive character and have very often emphasised the class character of the individual governors or generals of the time rather than a human approach to the problems that present themselves. We have seen from time to time those severe sentences, and I raised last year an outstanding case, from the War Office point of view, of the 200 men who were sentenced for what was called mutiny in Sicily. They were taken to North Africa 766 and finally sentenced to a very long period of penal servitude. It was established that the late Secretary of State for War (Sir James Grigg) at that time in a letter to me was guilty of the most amazing offence of deliberately suppressing the truth and making a completely false statement in relation to these men. I raised the issue in a petition later in regard to a young man in my own area whose father came to me with the whole of the evidence taken at the trial. These 200 men, because their unit did honourable service in the war and was being disbanded, resented the fact that, after having a long period of useful service from Alamein onwards, and a large number at Dunkirk, they should thus he disbanded and broken up and put into other battalions or brigades, and they refused to obey the order of the commanding officer.
They were given savage sentences and I raised the issue with Sir James Grigg. He gave me a letter in which he said that only in one or two cases were these men still in prison, that they had been liberated and had gone back to their fighting units. It turned out that that was a completely false statement and. when challenged in the Lobby of the House, Sir James Grigg made the amazing defence that he had made this false statement out of deference to the men concerned and to their dependants. I received scores of letters afterwards from men who were in prisons in every part of the country, from their parents, from their wives and sweethearts, and even the very prison letters that had been sent to the dependants. Nearly 40 letters were placed in my hands of individuals who are still in prison, yet the document sent from the War Office, bearing the signature of Sir James Grigg, said that only in one or two cases had they been sentenced or retained in prison. That in itself was an amazing thing and was inclined to undermine the confidence of any individual in a Department presided over by the Secretary of State for War who had been guilty of an offence of that kind. I' would have liked to know from the War Office—
§ The Temporary Chairman
It is not in accordance with the terms of the hon. Member's new Clause on the Paper.
§ Mr. Stephen
On this point, Mr. Douglas, it has always been customary, in order to avoid putting down needless Amendments, to move a new Clause on either the one or the other, and I am submitting to you that while this one refers to the Air Force, it is simply due to technical conditions. Today we have already discussed the other Services on the other new Clauses that have come before us.
§ The Temporary Chairman
It is open to hon. Members to put down a suitable Clause dealing with the Army Act, and if that had been done correctly, discussion on both new Clauses might have been taken at the same time. That is not, in fact, what has happened. This new Clause refers to the Air Force Act.
§ Mr. Stephen
Further to that point of Order, Mr. Douglas. I am submitting to you that the Chairman and the Deputy-Chairman today allowed quite free discussion on the previous new Clauses with regard to similar references in connection with the other Services, and I submit therefore that the same procedure should be adopted with regard to this new Clause as was adopted in regard to the others.
§ The Temporary Chairman
It is in Order to make references to the Army by way of analogy, but the main topic of discussion must be the one on the Order Paper, and that is the Air Force.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
In connection with this point of Order, Mr. Douglas, I hope we may be reassured that we shall not be out of Order in referring to the remarks of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) about Sir James Grigg. With respect, I was a little dubious as to how far it was in Order to refer to alleged Lobby conversations, but as they have been adduced in evidence, I should wish in this connection to be reassured that some of us will be allowed to comment on that account.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
But you have not restricted it, with respect, Mr. Douglas. The allegation has been allowed in detail and in full, and I would submit 768 that there really would be some unfairness if comment were not to be allowed from those of slightly different sympathies.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The fact that one hon. Member has strayed out of Order is no precedent for others doing the same.
§ Mr. C. Williams
With great respect, Mr. Douglas, surely, it is an almost invariable practice that, when a personal attack has been made, someone is allowed to answer it? If it is stopped before the attack develops, that is one thing, but when it has been given very fully, surely it has always been ruled that someone should be able to reply to it.
§ Mr. Grimston
Would you reconsider that Ruling, Mr. Douglas, because it is the fact that this personal attack was allowed to develop to its conclusion, and the hon. Member had gone on to something else before he was called to Order? In those circumstances, would you be prepared to allow a similar amount of latitude to those who wish to reply to it?
§ Mr. Walkden
On a further point of Order, Mr. Douglas. Before you reply, may it not be that you are basing your Ruling on a previous Ruling given in similar circumstances when the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) held a similar position to yourself? I found myself in the position where I wished to defend someone who had been attacked and the hon. Member for Torquay, who was then in your position, made it quite clear to me that I was out of Order, although someone else had found themselves in Order, though out of Order in so doing.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I think this is becoming a little hypothetical and complicated. Perhaps the hon. Member who is moving the Motion will proceed on the subject matter of it.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
With respect, Mr. Douglas, nothing could be really much less complicated or very much less hypothetical. A very plain, clear charge has been 769 brought against someone who is not in a position to rebut it. The question is, will anybody be allowed to comment upon that charge, which, if Rulings have been strict, might perhaps not have been in Order when it was made?
§ The Temporary Chairman
There is no Rule that charges made about people who are not Members of this House may be replied to.
§ Sir G. Fox
On a point of Order, Mr. Douglas. May I ask for your guidance on how in future we are to guard against a situation such as this, when a direct attack has been made and then a Ruling such as you have given stops any reply or any defence? I have been in the House of Commons for a number of years and I have never heard a decision such as that before, when we have not been able to protect the person who has been attacked.
§ Mr. Walkden
The hon. and gallant Gentleman should ask the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams)
§ The Temporary Chairman
It is not in Order for any hon. Member to question any decision given by the Chair.
§ Mr. C. Williams
While I agree with that, it would reflect on something that has been said since, for which I should like to have chapter and verse. I would say, with great respect, Mr. Douglas, that I think nearly every hon. Member will realise that if we are to have attacks of this kind, with no possibility of replying, it will put the Committee in a very difficult position.
§ Mr. McGovern
I will try to conform to your Ruling, though I must confess that nothing would give me greater pleasure than that some attempted defence should be made in reply to what I have said, because the War Office records can bear out amply and completely and truthfully what I have said about that individual. I have no desire to take advantage of the position other than to discover what 770 can happen in regard to these people who are imprisoned. I will try to conform to the Rulings which have been given in the rest of my remarks.
We consider that too great power is in the hands of the Air Force or of the Army and Navy court-martial authorities who decide the issues as to the imprisonment they are able to impose. The fact that they are given complete liberty to impose punitive imprisonment on individuals, is one which should be inquired into and considered by the present Administration. Take for example the case of Aircraftman Cymbalist. The hon. Gentleman has not yet completed his inquiries into the case—
§ The Temporary Chairman
It is not in Order to raise something which is sub judice, but I do not know yet whether this is sub judice or not.
I will conform to the Rulings and regulations as nearly as possible to suit my own point of view. But I have never been a stickler for the straight and narrow path, either in life or in this House. This man was court martialled and sent for 10 years' penal servitude. I am not aware that in this case there is any appeal to a higher authority, or that that would debar me from raising this issue. I am not raising completely the issue of an individual case but the broader issue. I am suggesting that a new spirit should prevail and that a new approach should take place. Limiting powers should be imposed on the Army, Navy or Air Force in this matter.
There was turmoil in the Far East and Middle East regarding the question of de-mobilisation and other questions that were agitating the minds of individuals and, collectively, of a large number of armed forces of this country. Very often in disputes and industrial turmoil leaders have been thrown up to the trade union movement and often they have come into this House. In this incident in the Far East, hundreds of men struck work. Conservative Members would say that they were guilty of mutiny, but to me industrial strikes could be termed industrial mutiny and the same could apply to a military or Air Force mutiny. The Nazis in Germany, in the revolution of 771 their totalitarian system, treated industrial turmoil as mutiny against the State in the same manner as mutiny has been dealt with in the military forces of this country.
This man received a 10 years' sentence because of that turmoil. He is described as the leader of a mutiny. It may be true that he played more than an important part in the mutiny, but I would remind hon. Members that after the last war greater toleration was given to serving men in regard to crimes alleged against them. That toleration was greater than has been shown during or after the war which has just come to an end. After the 1914–18 war, they burned down Luton Town Hall and shot "Red caps" and shot up numbers of people in France and elsewhere. But in those cases they were treated in a much more understanding and humane manner than men are now being treated. It is natural for these men, now the war has come to an end, to imagine that the emergency has come to an end. They say they ought to be demobilised at the earliest possible moment. Having got rid of the enemy in the field, they want to be reunited with their families. Naturally, these men are guilty of a measure of discontent which shows itself in this way.
I maintain that the sentences imposed in most cases of this kind are out of proportion to the offences committed. They ought to be considered as out of proportion by a large number of hon. Members supporting the Government. The attitude of mind taken up by the old "Blimpish" Conservative elements of the country ought not to be taken up by hon. Members on the Labour side of the Committee. I resent the imprisonments of five to 15 years which have been imposed. It is most difficult to get information regarding them. When the Labour Party were in Opposition and were climbing the slippery ladder towards power, they used annually to stage demonstrations condemning the death penalty and they divided against the Government. They were frank and brutal at times in opposition to the imposition of the death penalty. They should now be a little tolerant of the desire to maintain the historical attitude which the Labour Party held in Opposition. We say the powers should be limited in these circumstances. Class bias of individuals who run the Army Council, the Admiralty and the Air 772 Force is inclined to prevail in the field or at home. There ought to be some limiting factor, or restraining hand, that will not allow undue liberties to those individuals to impose their wicked will on men guilty of natural offences of desiring to get home to their parents, wives and families.
Therefore I move this Motion. In passing, I would say in relation to the last Motion which was moved, and with reference to the great amount of crime that is prevalent today, that there should be a more liberal attitude towards the men who have either been sentenced for desertion to periods of penal servitude, or who have disappeared. If there had been a general amnesty, as there was after the last war, because of the feeling of relief that has taken place in the country with the ending of the war, we might see fewer of the gunmen than are to be found in different parts of the country, burgling and so forth in order to live. The Home Secretary has admitted, in relation to a question of mine, that he believed that was true but the decision did not rest with him. I would like if possible to impress the Under-Secretary with the view that a new attitude is expected at this stage. If I may be pardoned for saying so, I think there is no man in this House to whom I might make a more sympathetic approach to a greater extent than to himself. Having been in the Communist Party, like Leading Aircraftman Cymbalist, as I understand he has, he might have a fellow feeling for an individual in distress who followed the line when he jumped off before it got too hot. Although he has dissociated himself, many an individual may have come under his educational tutorship which was very valuable indeed. He may have imbibed many of the views when the Communist Party were advocating revolution.
Apart from that, this case, in my estimation, is causing a tremendous amount of turmoil of mind throughout the fighting forces. I have received more letters on this case than I have received on any case during the war, and since, with regard to the savage sentence imposed. I appeal to the Under-Secretary and I say he has not yet had the full facts before him in order to give consideration to a reduction in sentence. I also appeal for a complete review by the various Services of the sentences that have 773 been imposed during this war under war conditions with all the difficulties of men being taken away from their homes, and so forth. They may be guilty of offences that could not be completely defended but of which there ought to be a proper understanding. I could have cited one case but I do not know whether it is worth while now we are not allowed to deal with the War Office. It was a question of a death sentence in my area imposed upon a man who had been guilty of the horrible and heinous crime of killing a German. He evidently killed one too many. Therefore, he was hauled before a court martial and sentenced to death, a sentence which was commuted to 15 years and he now lies in Peterhead prison. If this case had come before the ordinary civil court, looking back on the whole records of villainy and crime in this country, I know of many men who have got off with 12 months' imprisonment for manslaughter in cases similar to the one as a result of which this man was sentenced to death. There ought to be a human approach to this problem. There ought to be an understanding of the circumstances. If all these individuals have been imbibing the propaganda in this country by Lord Vansittart that there are no good Germans and that the only good German is a dead German, then the whole effect of this propaganda should be taken into consideration in regard to many of these cases of men lying in the prisons in this country. I would like to know, if it were possible, how many individuals are lying in prisons.
I remember going to one prison—Moss Bank, Glasgow—and I saw a man there who had been in the Home Guard and who was guilty of refusing to obey an order and had received either 30 or 60 days. In going through this detention barracks, the officer in charge was anxious to impress me how well the men were treated, and I frankly think that the men inside were treated fairly well. I inquired of them, and they all confessed to the treatment being fairly decent. There were Air Force men and also soldiers—over 600 of them in this small industrial approved school, as it used to be called. The officer said me, "We treat them very decently, and a man who comes in here for six months' imprisonment may get out in two or three months." He pointed to six men going out with their kit, and said 774 to one of them, "What were you in for?" The man said, "Theft," and the officer asked him, "What did you get?" The man replied, "Six months." "How long have you been in?" the officer asked him, and the man said, "Three months" "And now you are being discharged? "the officer asked, and the man replied," Yes, sir." The officer turned to me and said, "There you are, McGovern, there's proof of what I said." I saw this man again later, and he said—though I do not know whether this is a Parliamentary expression or not—" The old bastard forgot to tell you that I was being sent overseas under escort." The man was being released for the firing line under escort, and the officer had led me to believe that it was decent, humane treatment that they were getting. There were 600 men in this prison, and I have discovered that they are scattered all over the country at the present time.
I raise this issue very definitely, because I think the people of this country, who supported the Labour Party at the recent Election, genuinely expected a new approach to these men who have been guilty of different offences. It is not necessary for me to say that I am not going to defend the men on all the offences they committed, but I do think that, the war being an ugly and brutal piece of development in the life of the world, we should be anxious to turn away from all the effects of that cruelty and brutality and should be considering now how we are going to send back all these individuals into useful occupations. I do not believe that this punitive system of imprisonment is doing anything but eating like a cancer into the heart of a large number of individuals and embittering those who are dependent upon them. I therefore appeal to the Government to take a serious view of this question and make a new approach to it. I hope they will review the whole problem and the sentences imposed upon the men, and that they will try, at the earliest possible moment, to get back to an ordinary state of decency in which the men will be able to rejoin their families.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Marlowe (Brighton)
The Committee has just been treated to such an exhibition of woolly thinking as could only come from the I.L.P., and I think it is rather necessary to look at this Clause and see what it is about. What the hon. 775 Gentleman is seeking to do by this Amendment is to emasculate Section 44 of the Air Force Act so as to remove all punishments higher than 24 months' hard labour. That would be the effect, because he wishes to remove the death penalty and sentences of penal servitude.
§ Mr. Marlowe
This, then, I assume, is what the hon. Gentleman supports: If one airman serving in Egypt were to murder a fellow airman, the only sentence he could receive would be 24 months. If the hon. Gentleman believes that to be a. just way of dealing with the matter, no doubt he is prepared to support it, but that is the inevitable consequence of the Clause he has moved. It really would be a ridiculous situation. A court martial must have the power to give sentences which a civil court in this country could give in dealing with a similar case. Perhaps what the hon. Gentleman has overlooked is the fact that the civil courts of this country have no jurisdiction to deal with offences committed in other parts of the world. Offences which occur have, therefore, to be dealt with by court martial, and it is necessary that the court martial should be armed with precisely the same power as would be visited upon the offender if the offence were committed in this country.
§ Mr. McGovern
As a matter of fact, I am in favour of handing over to the civil authority a man who has committed murder. Only if it is a case of a minor offence would I have him tried by a court martial.
§ Mr. Marlowe
That is exactly the point I was trying to make. Unfortunately, the jurisdiction of the civil courts of this country does not run in Egypt, Palestine, India, or anywhere else where an airman may be serving, and the only court competent to deal with offences is the court martial. No High Court Judge in this country has jurisdiction in Egypt. The only alternative, which I suppose the hon. Gentleman would then propose, is that British subjects should be handed over to some foreign court. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman wants offenders in our Services to be handed over to, say, the Egyptian courts, but that is the only possible alternative.
§ Mr. Marlowe
Then he has to face the logical consequence of the new Clause he has moved. There is nothing else. There 776 are only two possible alternatives for the type of case I have presupposed, of one airman murdering another in Egypt. Either the man goes scot free, because he cannot be tried by an English judge, or, alternatively, he has to be handed over to the Egyptian court, which the hon. Gentleman agrees is undesirable. If not he can be tried by court martial and get 24 months' hard labour. That is the reality; the hon. Gentleman must face it, and it really is a piece of woolly thinking.
What the hon. Gentleman has done, of course, is to argue from the particular to the general. He has got a little upset about some sentences which were passed upon people whom he called strikers, but who are known in military and Air Force law as mutineers, and because he is not very pleased with those sentences he puts down this Clause without realising what its consequences are. I hope the hon. Gentleman who is to reply will resist this proposal, because it is essential that courts martial should be armed with adequate powers to deal with offences that come before them.
§ Mr. Strachey
I am afraid I am bound to disappoint the hon. Member who moved this new Clause. I shall not be able to deal with many parts of his speech. I should not be in Order under the Ruling of the Chair in dealing with the part of his speech in which he referred to questions which arose in the Army, nor should I be permitted to deal with those questions which referred to another Service under another Minister of another party acting at another time.
I have to leave this—
§ Mr. Strachey
The hon. Member is perfectly correct. The next part of the speech of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), with which, I am afraid, I must also refrain from dealing, dealt with Aircraftman Cymbalist. It would be highly improper for me to make any statement on that subject, because, as I have explained to the Committee before, the case, though not technically sub judice, is one in which the papers in the case will be referred, or are about to be immediately referred, to the Air Council in this country, which will, under the chairmanship of my Noble Friend, review them as it reviews all sentences of this kind. As a member of the Air Council I 777 shall have to consider that case in a quasi judicial capacity and, therefore, I should feel it highly wrong to express the slightest hint of any view of it today.
On the main issue the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) has anticipated some of my remarks. I think he was not quite right in saying that a case of murder—for example, of one aircraft-man by another—taking place overseas could not be tried by a civil court of this country. I am advised it could. Murder or treason can be. Other grave offences, however, such as might call for a long sentence, could not. Actually, in the case of murder, the jurisdiction of the courts of this country does, I am advised, extend overseas.
§ Mr. Strachey
Nevertheless, his general argument is, I think, sound. There would be a number of very serious offences which it would be impossible to try at all, or in which sentences of more than three years could not be imposed, because they could not be referred to the civil courts in this country. Nor, if this Amendment were accepted, could courts martial impose any sentence of over three years. What the hon. Member is really asking for here is a very drastic reduction in the penalties which can be enforced by courts martial.
Surely, what he really is asking for is that the law in general should be stopped from imposing the death sentence or any sentence longer than three years; because, in fact, sentences which courts martial may impose must, surely, keep in step with the general state of the penal code in the country as a whole. I do not think we could possibly completely alter the scale of punishment which courts martial may inflict without altering it in the case of the civil law as well. There could be some differences, but no difference as great as this. This is really a question of the severity of the law of the country, on which there is a great deal to be said, but, obviously, this is not an occasion on which we should deal with that. I recall from the earlier occasion on which I served in this House, the Noble Lord the Member for Paisley (Viscount Corvedale) moving a Motion which did abolish the death sentence as applicable 778 in certain cases of mutiny; and it is true, therefore, that the severities of Military law have been mitigated. I think many of us on all sides of the House are in favour of that, but we could not possibly go as far as is suggested in this new Clause, and stop courts martial from imposing any sentence longer than three years. The hon. Member has had an opportunity to plead very eloquently, as he always does, for these unfortunate men who, at the end of the war, and there are always a number in such circumstances, find themselves sentenced under courts martial. I ask him to agree with us that we cannot possibly accept the Amendment as it is, and to withdraw it as having served his purpose in giving him an opportunity to plead once more, and I hope it will not be the last occasion, in connection with individual cases coming to his notice.
§ Mr. Stephen
I do not wish to detain the Committee long, but I want to say to the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe), that had he had a little more Parliamentary experience he would have known that this form of Clause is put down in order to raise various questions, and that Members who move such Clauses realise it is unlikely that they will be accepted.
§ Mr. Marlowe
The hon. Member will, I think, agree that that does not debar Members debating against them.
§ Mr. Stephen
I am not saying that the hon. and learned Member should not debate the Clause, but he accused my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) of woolly thinking, because of what he called the logic of this Clause. I was pointing out that what was made plain was the Parliamentary inexperience of the hon. and learned Member who made that statement, and that Members of all parties have used this form of Clause as a means of raising various points of view. What my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston was saying, and he said it very effectively, was that much of the punishment in connection with military law was, in our view, excessive for the offences, and he pleaded that the Labour Government should review the whole matter and bring military law into line with our ordinary criminal law.
§ Mr. C. Williams
I would not, under any circumstance, accuse the hon. 779 Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) of being woolly, woolly hearted, or whatever was the particular phrase used by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe). When moving this Clause, he managed, with that extra capacity he has, and has had for a long time, which I think has always been of great value in Parliament, to put over the human side, which can never be without its value when expressed in the House of Commons. We may completely and utterly disagree or disregard it, or think that it is wrong, but it does not prevent many of us who disagree fundamentally with him, as we do in this and almost every other case, from thinking it is right that the smallest party, or a very small party, should be able to get up and express its views freely and fully. I feel sure that on that point the hon. and learned Member for Brighton will fully agree with me.
I noticed when the Minister was speaking with that clarity which is exceptional on the Front Bench in these days—in fact it is almost the only case of which I know of even semi-clarity-there was grave disappointment at what he was saying amongst the Socialists who chose to attend on this question today, numbering some half dozen or dozen Back Benchers. As we were reminded earlier today, we are only dealing with the Air Force and we were reminded earlier by the hon. Member for Shettleston that in days gone by the Socialist Party, including probably many sitting on the Front Bench now, have trooped into the Lobby on Amendments such as that proposed now. That has been done often, and never have they hesitated on those occasions to upset the Government of the day or try to make it difficult for that Government. That was their outlook and their mental approach to these things. It did not matter how inconvenient such actions were to the Government of the day, but when those same Socialists come into office themselves they take an entirely different point of view. I say quire frankly I am not playing that game. I am not attacking them today. If there were a Division on this matter I should support the Government in the Lobby I notice hon. Gentlemen opposite laughing. I wonder how many of them would have the courage, if there were a Division, to go into the Lobby against the Government as would have been the 780 case had a Tory Government been sitting on those Benches.
§ Mr. Williams
I know they have asked leave to withdraw, but they have not got the necessary permission as yet and there still can be a Division if it is wanted. I realise that the position of some hon. Members opposite is very difficult and I. fully sympathise with that position. Possibly, I have made more remarks about them than I otherwise would, but I think I have said it in a kindly way, or at least I intended to. I want to get back to the Government, because after all that is what I am here for. Independent groups do not interest me very much except that I almost always value independence.
As far as this Clause is concerned, it refers to the Air Force and to none of the other Services. I think if all penalties were cut down to three years in the first place it would be very unfair to those men in the Forces who had served loyally and well throughout the whole of the war, and, secondly, while I do not intend to wander into illustration, it would be grossly unfair to those men if these sentence reductions applied to only one of the Forces and not to the other two Forces. Therefore, if there were a Division, I should be absolutely compelled to support the Government, first, because of the unfairness to the individual and, secondly, because of the unfairness to the two Forces remaining outside this Amendment. I quite realise that in all probability the hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment did so with an object in view. I would not like to describe him as trying to work his passage home, because I have rather gathered that he cannot work his passage into the Socialist Party. I can only say I am very glad of that, because I think he is of very great value to the country where he is. I say so with very great respect, because he represents a line of thought which, though I am not in agreement with it, wins the appreciation of people who delight in Members with a clear mind who think well. I say quite frankly if this Amendment had been put to a Division and if every hon. Member of this House had voted in that Division as he voted on previous occasions, the Government would be in a very difficult position amongst many of their own supporters. They would be in a still more 781 difficult position if Members opposite, of whom so few are here to listen to this great Service question, voted according to their speeches. However, in order to save them embarrassment I shall not, for very much longer, continue to object to a proposal of this kind.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
I hope Members of the Independent Labour Party do not think me too much lacking in Parliamentary experience to make any reference or reply to their remarks. It has always been one of my principal pleasures and sources of self-congratulation when I have been able to follow them in our Debates. I would like to comment upon two pieces of evidence, not so much adduced as presumed, by the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern). Nobody more than I dislikes penalties, all penalties, the infliction of pain. It seems to me an odious and hideous thing, and only to be justified when it can be demonstrated or, at least, clearly presumed, that more pain is avoided by the infliction than is actually inflicted.
But the thesis of evidence which the hon. Member indicated, rather than adduced, did not seem to me to bear out his case. One was the behaviour of the "Blimps," and I thought he was less than fair to them. He asked the Government not to imitate the attitude of the "Blimps," but I invite him, and the Government, to remember that "Blimps" took that attitude between them and bullets. Those of them who stopped bullets, with those portions of their anatomy with which they could more easily dispense, were fortunate. There is another piece of evidence indicated, and not adduced, and not, therefore, capable of cross-examination. I invite the Committee to think that one reason for not paying attention to the arguments of the Independent Labour Party should be that the evidence is not accepted as evidence where it cannot be cross-examined. I think if each one of us were to use in argument in the Chamber what we have heard in the Lobbies, the main effect would be most unwholesome, and there would be an almost daunting silence in the Lobbies. Conversation would then become impossible.
But, since such evidence has been referred to, it seems to me to be fair to say 782 this: I would be the last to accuse the hon. Member—for whom I have great respect for his fairness and effectiveness in controversy—of any kind of premeditated, or desired, falsehood. But I think he will find, on reading HANSARD, that he did permit his language to make such an accusation against somebody else. I think it not less than necessary to say that some of us who know Sir James Grigg well enough can be perfectly certain that there never was a Secretary of State for War who had more at heart fairness and justness for fighting men than he, who had been a fighting man—a qualification not very common among Secretaries of State. Further, there never was a Minister in this House who more courageously avowed what he meant, and what he thought, and of whom it could be less convincing to accuse of a false statement.
§ Mr. McGovern
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the statement I made today was similar to the statement I made in the House last year when I publicly, not privately, challenged the decision of the War Office? What I said was not based on Lobby talk. I say that, in regard to the zoo men from Sicily who were sentenced, he did lie officially about those men.
§ Mr. Ayles (Southall)
I did not think that I should be taking part in this Debate, but it is one of the advantages of this House that it contains men and women who have all kinds of experience. I suppose that I have more experience than any other Member of the matter which is now before us. I have been court-martialled a good many times. I have been in civilian prisons as the result of being before civilian magistrates, and I have been in detention barracks for over two and a half years. I have had a fairly wide experience, because I have been in no fewer than seven different prisons and detention barracks. It seems to me, therefore, that one with my experience certainly ought to give the results of that experience to the Committee in such a case as this.
What we have to do is to consider what the results of these sentences are upon the men who serve them, and whether they are a deterrent. My experience is that it is no deterrent at all to compel a man to serve two or more years' detention if he is considering any kind of a breach of the Army, Navy or Air Force 783 Regulations, or even the civilian law. There has been no man with whom I have come into contact, who has served more than two years—and I include myself—who has not been brutalised to some extent as the result of the sentence he has served. The very fact that you compel a man to serve a sentence of two years and over does not achieve what ought to be the desire of any civilised Government—the reform of the man who has broken the law. Neither does it deter the man. Either he breaks the law as the result of passion, in which case the deterrent does not enter the question, or he breaks the law with his eyes open, in which case he is prepared to take whatever sentence he is given. So, from both standpoints it does no good. Therefore, when one hon. Member accuses another of speaking in a woolly way I would tell him that there is only one cure, and that is to do what I have done, serve a few sentences both as a result of courts martial, and as a result of breaking the law.
§ Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.
§ Preamble agreed to.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ 3.47 P.m.
§ Mr. C. Williams
Someone ought to say something on the Third Reading of the Bill. I rise because, earlier in the day, I asked a question about Clause 4, but no Member of the Front Bench could answer it. I was told that they would try to get the information later. In all probability, now that they have had three or tour hours to find the information, they will be able to tell me precisely what paragraph (c) means. I have asked two or three lawyers about the provisions of the previous part of the Clause, Subsection (1), in which "four" is substituted for "eight." I gather it means that we shall carry on for a shorter period of four years rather than for the longer period of eight years. I would like that position to be clarified,. however. It is of some importance that we should have these things well known by the Services. I have no doubt that the experts could quite easily deal with it.
In my search for information on this Clause, part of a Bill which we are pro- 784 ceeding to pass, it was very curious to discover that no Member of the Government Front Bench was able to explain that part of the Bill. The Government are asking the House of Commons to pass the Bill which affects the Services. I hope I was not unreasonably unfriendly about the matter, but it was remarkable that we should have that position. I am not blaming Ministers. Such a vast amount of legislation is being put through the House that it is humanly impossible for the ordinary Minister to know what it is really all about. I use this opportunity of pointing out that the Government did not know their own Bill. I want to point out very clearly to the House, and I hope that someone outside will take notice of the fact, that, on many occasions, the Government are passing legislation that very few Members of the Front Bench could explain to their constituents, and still less to a big meeting.
§ Mr. Strachey
I think the hon. Member has answered his own question. The answer is, I think, contained also in the memorandum accompanying the Bill. The effect of the change is simply that a man can be engaged for regular service after four years instead of after eight years, up to the limit of 55. That, I think, is the exact consequence of the proposed change.
§ Mr. Williams
The. hon. Member says he thinks that is the answer. I am quite willing to accept that, but will he look into the matter and let me put down a question so that he can tell me as an absolute certainty that this is the legal consequence of the Bill?
§ Mr. Strachey
If the hon. Member wants to put down a question, I shall be able to answer him with greater detail and at greater length, but if he prefers, I will withdraw the words "I think" now and make my statement entirely substantive, that this is a fact, as far as I have gone. There may be elaborations, but I will make completely substantive the statement I have just made.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.